Bargaining for Clean Water: Why Dean Kamen Invented the Coca-Cola Freestyle

December 7, 2018 Jael Batty

The Coke Freestyle

The technology Kamen used to develop the Freestyle Coca-Cola soda fountain is similar to that in his prescription pumps.1

When Kamen asked Coke for help distributing his water purifier, Coke challenged Kamen to develop a better soda fountain first.

Dean Kamen, Inventor of Medical Technology

The inventor of the Segway, Dean Kamen is known in the scientific community for developing medical equipment. His inventions include a wearable prescription pump for insulin and chemotherapy, a microdosing prescription pump for infants, and a home dialysis machine.When Kamen realized his dialysis machine required too much distilled water and energy for home use, he developed a system to purify tap water that would run on less power than a hairdryer.

And that’s not all it does. Kamen’s water purifier can take any water source and return water safe even for infants to drink.2

How it works

  • Kamen’s water purifier uses vapor compression distillation system.
  • It uses less than one kilowatt of electricity per hour (less electricity than a hairdryer).
  • The purifier uses any water source, no matter how polluted—laundry water, groundwater, seawater, even sewage.
  • It boils and evaporates the source water then condenses and collects clean drinking water.
  • One system purifies up to 850 liters per day, which can provide safe drinking water for around 300 people.2, 3

Water Purification for the World

While he was developing it, Kamen realized his water purifier had world-wide benefits. It could supply clean water for disaster relief and to areas with polluted or low water supply.2

Waterborne Disease: #1 Killer

Kamen believes that 50% of the world’s medical issues can be solved with clean water. He says children are at the highest risk.4 The World Health Organization (WHO) agrees. Water-borne disease kills more than 3.4 million people, mostly children, every year, making it the world’s largest killer.5

This is the result of more than 2 billion people across the world using contaminated water. Approximately 844 million people lack a potable water source, including 159 million people who use surface water for their daily needs. WHO estimates that half the globe will be water-stressed by the year 2025.6

Goliath, Meet Slingshot

Kamen named his water purifier Slingshot as the appropriate weapon for the global water crisis, which he calls Goliath.4

Kamen’s goal to mass distribute Slingshots to thousands of water-polluted/water-stressed rural locations has been slowed by his lack of resources. Unfortunately, his medical connections were little help delivering water purifying systems to rural areas—medical technology is distributed in wealthy areas. So, he turned to Coke for assistance in mass distributing his invention.3

Bargaining: The Freestyle

Coke’s counter-proposal: first build a better soda fountain. This is how the inventor of medical supplies came to develop the Freestyle Coca-Cola soda fountain.2

Expanding the Handshake Deal

By the time Kamen’s soda fountain, the Coca-Cola Freestyle, was put in production, Coke had a new CEO. But Muhtar Kent didn’t drop Kamen’s handshake deal. He expanded on the informal agreement to mass-produce and distribute the water purifier. To get the water purifiers to rural areas, Coke is distributing Slingshots within their Ekocenter.2

Ekocenter Modular Community Market

Coke’s Ekocenter is a solar-powered shipping container that provides low-income rural communities with safe water, internet access, non-perishables, first-aid supplies, and more. Coca-Cola calls their Ekocenter a “modular community market.” It is an opportunity for local (usually female) entrepreneurs, who are trained by Coke.6

Going Far Together

To distribute the Ekocenters, Coke is following the proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Coke has pooled resources with 10 other companies to greater impact the world. By December 2017, 150 solar powered Ekocenters had been placed in 8 low-income countries. These Ekocenters can distribute 78.1 million total liters of potable drinking water per year.6

Kamen’s Vision and Future Use

Kamen’s vision involves the distribution of 2,000 units to low-income rural areas.2 Is his vision of clean water distribution different than Coke’s vision? Is the need more immediate? In America, water-polluted urban areas like Reno and Las Vegas; Pittsburg; Milwaukee; Flint, Michigan; Brady, Texas; to name a few, and the water-stressed state of California, which is researching ways to recycle wastewater for potable use, might look into using the Slingshot. Comment below and let us know what future use(s) you envision for Kamen’s Slingshot.

Tune in next week to read Toilet-to-Tap—Taking the Ick Out of Wastewater Recycling.

  1. Coca-Cola Freestyle: The Soda Machine of the Future (+ the Past), By Elina Shatkin, March 1, 2012. https://www.laweekly.com/content/printView/2378629
  2. Popular Science, Pure Genius: How Dean Kamen’s Invention Could Bring Clean Water to Millions, by Tom Foster, June 16, 2014. https://www.popsci.com/article/science/pure-genius-how-dean-kamens-invention-could-bring-clean-water-millions
  3. Coca-Cola Journey™: Sustainability, EKOCENTER & Slingshot Clean Water Partnerships.
    https://www.coca-colaafrica.com/stories/sustainability-water-ekocenter#
  4. WHO Drinking-water Key Facts, February 7, 2018,
    http://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/drinking-water
  5. Dean Kamen Inventor – Slingshot Water Purifier, By Datun Center, April 17, 2015.
    https://youtu.be/PMBB97raUGY
  6. WHO: Waterborne Disease is World’s Leading Killer, by Jessica Berman, October 29, 2009.
    https://www.voanews.com/a/a-13-2005-03-17-voa34-67381152/274768.html

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