From the Man Who Brought You the Segway: The Next Electric Car?


segway.jpgRemember the Segway? Back in 2000, the self-balancing scooter was hyped as the Second Coming of wheeled transport. Unfortunately for its inventor, eccentric New Yorker Dean Kamen, it hasn’t really caught on outside a narrow circle of enthusiasts. But Kamen doesn’t care. He’s got something better:

Conceived in Scotland almost 200 years ago, the Stirling is a marvel of thermodynamics that could help to replace the internal combustion engine—in theory it can turn any source of heat into electricity, in silence and with 100 percent efficiency. But corporations including Phillips, Ford and Nasa have devoted decades of research, and millions of dollars, to developing the engine, and all retired defeated, having failed to find a way of turning the theoretical principles of the engine into a workable everyday application.

After ten years and a $40 million investment, Kamen and his engineers think they’ve succeeded where NASA failed. Though the Stirlings aren’t ready for commercial use, Kamen says he’s test-driven engines burning everything from jet fuel to cow manure. They don’t work in cars yet, he says. But they will.

Kamen isn’t your typical eco-warrior. On the one hand, he makes his seven-mile daily commute via personal helicopter; on the other, when New York authorities told him he couldn’t put a wind turbine on his private island, he evaded them by declaring it an independent nation (North Dumpling) of which he was sole sovereign (Lord Dumpling).

But Kamen is a tinkerer, and he has plenty of resources to devote to solving the Stirling engine. There’s no guarantee he can do it. But oil doesn’t grow on trees, and a lot of people would like to keep using cars as their primary transportation (just look at all the ways we’re trying to keep them on the road). Whoever invents the first truly green, cost-effective car is going to become a gazillionaire, at least in this country. And if it’s Dean Kamen, don’t be surprised if you and all your friends are driving Dumplings to work.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Franco Folini.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.