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​Welcome to Dean Kamen's cool world

Victor Hugo, the 19th century French novelist, once wrote, "There is nothing like a dream to create the future." Well, as Erin Moriarty of "48 Hours" discovered, there are very few dreamers like Dean Kamen:

When most people think of inventor Dean Kamen, two things come to mind: The Segway, his personal transporter; and the headlines from 2010, which led some people to believe he had died.

It was actually British businessman Jimi Heselden, who tragically drove a Segway off a cliff in Northern England, less than a year after buying Kamen's invention. To clear things up, Kamen assured Moriarty that, yes, he is still healthy.

Which is a good thing, especially for the hundreds of millions of people throughout the world without access to clean water.


"Fifty percent of all chronic human disease would go away -- you would empty 50 percent of the hospital beds in the world -- if you just gave people clean water," Kamen said.

When Kamen sees a problem, he and his team of engineers based in Manchester, N.H., work to solve it. Hence, the Slingshot, a portable water purifier. Kamen says it removes anything -- pathogens, organics, inorganics, chrome, arsenic, feces.

It's named after the weapon the Biblical David used to deal with the problem of Goliath. As shown in a new documentary called "Slingshot," Kamen's team has already successfully tested a small number of these devices in villages in Latin America and Africa.

Clean water is created using just a tiny bit of electricity. The Slingshot runs on batteries, solar cells or even methane from animal dung. Still, at a cost of $100,000 each, Slingshots are too expensive to be practical. So Kamen has gone looking for partners, starting with Coca-Cola. The company that has the capacity to put vending machines nearly anywhere was first on board.

Moriarty asked, "You're not at all even a little bit uncomfortable in these small villages that you're producing clean water, but it's a big ad for Coca-Cola?"

"I think the Coca-Cola Company over time has made it very clear they weren't in this to sell Coca-Cola," Kamen replied.

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Dean Kamen demonstrates the Slingshot for correspondent Erin Moriarty.
CBS News

The inventor who holds more than 400 U.S. and foreign patents describes himself as "a dyed-in-the-wool capitalist. Without making money, I couldn't do the things I do. Money gives you freedom; it gives you flexibility; it gives you resources to do things."

Royalties from his many inventions allow Kamen to employ 500 engineers and technicians at his company, DEKA Research -- employees who don't have to sell anything, they just create prototypes to solve problems.

When asked if he ever takes a vacation, Kamen said, "I don't play golf. I don't sit at the beach. I don't roam around places like a tourist. To me, a vacation is moving from one project to another."

At 63 years old, Kamen still has a childlike passion for all kinds of mechanical devices and toys, and lives in a massive dream home he designed not far from his headquarters. Not bad for a kid from Long Island, New York, who -- believe it or not -- struggled in school because of dyslexia.