Vietnam’s young scientist wins state investment in ‘haptic eyes’ for blind

Nguyen Ba Hai, 31, has convinced the Vietnamese premier to invest in his project of manufacturing glasses for blind people

1. Nguyen Ba Hai presents his invention at the meeting between PM Nguyen Tan Dung and young scientists in Hanoi on September 11, 2015.

A young scientist has convinced the Vietnamese prime minister to invest in his project of manufacturing glasses for visually-impaired people in the country.

>> An audio version of the story is available here

Nguyen Ba Hai, a 31-year-old doctorate holder, delivered a presentation on the project at a meeting between PM Nguyen Tan Dung and 70 outstanding young scientists in a wide range of fields in Hanoi on Friday.

The scientists, under the age of 35, have made valuable achievements in research as well as won awards in technology and science, or have their works published in reputable international journals.

At the meeting, it took Dr. Hai, from the Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology and Education, 10 minutes to explain his invention of a kind of glasses called “haptic eyes,” which could help the blind to avoid obstacles.

Within a certain pre-programmed distance, the lightweight electronic “haptic eyes” will send vibration signals to the user when the sensor system detects obstacles so that the user can duck them.

The device works more helpfully than a stick for the blind because it can detect obstacles in high positions, whereas sticks are usually useful for touching objects on the ground only.

Moreover, the “haptic eyes” can also identify if an obstacle stands still or moves.

The invention was highly valued by the prime minister, who chaired a Q&A session on its usefulness and price, as well as the actual demand now.

Hai, who said he is willing to gift his invention to society, revealed that the product was made four years ago and has been through nine times of improvement so far.

Earlier, the scientist turned down a deal offered by a company which suggested buying his invention at VND 2.3 billion (US$102,679) to produce and sell the glasses to the market.

During the last few years, Hai has produced thousands of “haptic eyes” with money from his own pocket, and sponsors and donors, to give away to poor visually-impaired people and he has received positive feedback.

ytwk7q4z.jpgVisually-impaired Duong Thi Thanh Loan, a lottery ticket seller in Ho Chi Minh City, is seen receiving a pair of “haptic eyes” in 2014. Photo: Tuoi Tre

He added that the current price of a pair of “haptic eyes” is around VND2 million ($89) but it could be lowered to VND1.3 million ($58) or VND 1.5 million ($67) if being mass-produced.

An estimated 300,000 completely blind people and around 1.2 million people with visual impairment at different levels in Vietnam need the “haptic eyes.”

After the presentation, the premier decided to provide support for Hai and his research team to implement their project, which is meaningful for the entire society.

PM Dung also requested Hai to expand the scale of production.

The first target is to give away the glasses to about 70,000 disadvantaged blind people across the country, and later offer them to those visually-impaired people who need them at cost price.

The state will provide funds for the production of the glasses via the Ministry of Science and Technology, the premier said.

At the meeting, Prime Minister Dung also assigned Minister of Science and Technology Nguyen Quan to soon work with Hai to accelerate the implementation of the project.

Besides the “haptic eyes,” Hai also gave a presentation on his team’s other projects to create English teaching robots, produce made-in-Vietnam coffee makers, and spur the process of enhancing the commercial value of Vietnamese coffee.

All the projects have been carried out with their own funding and the finances they could raise.

Talking to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, Hai said in the past years he has saved money for experimental production by selling his car and living in a rented house, but he has yet to access the state budget or technology and science development foundations since he is afraid of complicated procedures.

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