Getting to the Root of "Ginger"

Back in January, IT was all the rage. IT was on the tongues of students in the dining halls and

Back in January, IT was all the rage. IT was on the tongues of students in the dining halls and IT made the front pages of the nation’s newspapers. But no one knew what IT actually was. All we knew was that those in the know called it “Ginger.”

Like the Rubik’s cube and sea monkeys, Ginger commanded the nation’s short but intense attention span in the way only a fad could. Ginger was said to have the potential to transform the world. To date, Ginger has transformed very little. People never found out what Ginger was, and soon it disappeared from the radar screen.

Some said it was a hover scooter, others claimed it was a super-efficient engine capable of revolutionizing urban transportation. Only an elite circle of America’s technology pantheon was let in on the secret. Apple Computers founder Steve Jobs was quoted as saying that Ginger is so remarkable, cities will be built around it.

America’s love affair—or one night stand, as the case may be—with Ginger began when got wind of a $250,000 book deal between the Harvard Business School Press (HBSP) and superstar inventor Dean Kamen along with his ghostwriter, journalist Steve Kemper. Kamen was so secretive about his invention that HBSP had to sign on to the deal without even knowing what it was Kamen had come up with. All HBSP had to go on was the effusive praise of techno-luminaries like William H. Gates IV, class of ’77, and Jeff Bezos, whose began taking preorders for the device even though no one knew what it was or how much it would cost.

And so the media circus began. A look through any media archive will reveal scores of articles between January 9th and mid-February just itching to know what Ginger is. And then Kamen, previously best known as the man who invented the $20,000 stair-climbing wheelchair, was no longer the press’s darling. But given the many stair-climbing wheel chairs we encounter so often on a daily basis, how could he fall out of the spotlight? What has become of Ginger?

Hollis Heimbouch, who bought the book for HBSP, still refuses to comment, but according to a patent Kamen filed with the World Intellectual Property Organization, Ginger appears to be a scooter with a very advanced engine. What’s more, sources suggest that since Kamen’s stair-climbing wheelchair succeeded only through innovations in balancing technology, we can only imagine that Kamen’s scooter utilizes many of the same physics principles—making for a potentially compact, fast, easy-to-ride, non-polluting personal mobility vehicle.

The dimming media attention doesn’t concern Robert Jerard, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of New Hampshire, in Kamen’s home state. “I have a lot of respect for Dean Kamen,” he said, adding, “He’s a creative guy who thinks for himself. He’s got a good track record and from an engineering point of view, the electric wheelchair that walks by itself is just about the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”

It seems that we will never know for sure what Kamen has up his sleeve until Ginger makes her public debut, allegedly sometime in 2002. But Prof. Jerard is quick to note, “[Kamen] himself said [Ginger] was not going to change the world, and that it’s just a lot of hype someone came up with.”