Dean Kamen, the engineer who invented the Segway, is puzzling over a new equation these days. An estimated 1.1 billion people in the world don’t have access to clean drinking water, and an estimated 1.6 billion don’t have electricity. …

To solve the problem, he’s invented two devices, each about the size of a washing machine that can provide much-needed power and clean water in rural villages.

The energy machine creates power from "anything that burns" — cow dung is envisioned as the primary input. It can also run on the sludge created by the water machine, which can allegedly purify any water put in it, no matter how dirty.

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As intriguing as the devices themselves is the business model:

The real invention here, though, may be the economic model that Kamen and [Iqbal Quadir, founder of Grameen Phone] hope to use to distribute the machines. It is fashioned after Grameen Phone’s business, where village entrepreneurs (mostly women) are given micro-loans to purchase a cell phone and service. The women, in turn, charge other villagers to make calls.

"We have 200,000 rural entrepreneurs who are selling telephone services in their communities," notes Quadir. "The vision is to replicate that with electricity."

"Not required are engineers, pipelines, epidemiologists, or microbiologists," says Kamen. "You don’t need any -ologists. You don’t need any building permits, bribery, or bureaucracies."

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That’s the future right there.