Segway inventor Dean Kamen teams up with unlikely ally for clean water box: Coke

Dean Kamen — the inventor of the Segway and dozens of other futuristic devices that’ll make your jaw drop — has been working on a clean water box called the Slingshot for a good decade. The legend is that if you put any kind of liquid — from sewage to salt water — in one side of the 300-pound, compact, box, a day’s worth of drinking water will come out the other. Well, according to a report in Fortune, Kamen is getting closer to making that technology more of a real world product, and has teamed up with Coca-Cola (s ko) to help get the devices into areas that need them.
The article says that Coca-Cola will help Kamen’s DEKA research group get Slingshots to entrepreneurs in developing countries that will sell the clean water as a service and will be incentivized to maintain the machines. Kamen told the reporter that Slingshots can produce water for around a penny a gallon, and he hopes that 5 million entrepreneurs can use them to run businesses by 2020.
Those are really aggressive numbers for a device that now costs $7,000 to $8,000 and has been in development for a decade (they’re looking to reduce the cost by a lot). And details of the Coke deal are few (will Coca-Cola buy and donate the machines?).
But if any company can get this type of technology to off-grid villages that don’t have regular access to clean water in India and Africa, it’d be a beverage giant like Coca-Cola. Along with cell phone giants like Nokia and telecom operators in these regions, Coke has managed to create a product that is actually widely bought and sold by regular people in developing countries. That means it has deep, deep distribution channels in many off-grid, clean-power lacking, regions.
And the main resource Coke needs to produce its product is clean water. If it can use or learn from the Slingshot technology, it could ultimately help its own business in these regions. And it could also have a valuable marketing tool, if it had Coca-Cola sponsored entrepreneurs throughout rural villages.
Other technologies that Kamen’s DEKA research group has been working on over the years include: an LED bulb, a bionic arm, a portable dialysis machine, a self balancing wheel chair, and a stirling engine. A lot of these inventions could act as the seeds for next-generation energy technologies (Kamen is a major clean power advocate), but the issue is getting them from the lab to the store or into commercialization.