by An Vu
|Genius: Nguyen Thai Toan, a mango farmer who left school at 11, has invented a device based on his mobile phone and his brother's radio-controlled car to turn irrigation water off or on from half a kilometre away. His invention has been praised by a leading professor. — VNS File Photo
With just a click on his mobile phone, Nguyen Thai Toan in the Central Highlands province of Dak Nong can open and close irrigation gates providing water to his 5ha mango farm.
As the canal in 5ha mango garden was too far from his farmhouse, he sometimes had to use another family member to open and shut the irrigation pipes.
One day, when he himself had to do the job, he came up with the idea of using a gear box from his brother's toy car to do the job for him.
It took Toan nearly two years to figure out how to do it. As a youth, he had always skilful playing with technology. He once dismantled his younger brother's remote-controlled toy car to see what made it move. Al-though he left school when he was only 11, he knows much about electrical engineering.
"It took me 18 to 20 months to figure out how to make the machine operate. It consists of a cell phone, a signal set, a gear-box and a safety knife-switch," says the 30-year-old.
When he connected the devices with the monophase button in the back of his mobile phone and pressed it, the switch immediately turned on and off. He knew then that his idea would work.
However, he says, the invention is not ideal. The combination of distance control and gear-box only works over a short distance.
"When you want to cut the power off, you just need to make a call," he says. "The gear-box receives the signal from the phone and it closes the pipes down immediately. When the next call comes in, the gear-box will turn on."
To prevent electrical leakage, Toan also attached a safety interrupter, which aut-omatically disconnects the power if the circuit does not work properly.
"When you use too much radio frequency, it will cause wave disturbance," he says. "But if I use telephone waves instead, the scope of the device's activities will be greater."
He asked a friend to help him make a telephone signal receiver, but Toan found that it wouild be too expensive. "The device was quite cumbersome and costly, but I then realised that I could do the job by myself if I tried."
At the moment, Toan has no plans to sell his device. He says that his only intention was to save time and manpower on his farm, not to make a profit.
"Previously, it took me eight hours a day to go backwards and forwards through the mango garden to open or shut the irrigation system. Now with this device, I save all that time."
"The local authority has said it will support me if I want to work further on the device. But I'm not ready to make such a commitment to the project.
Since I started planting mangoes in 2004, my income is VND70 million ($3,300) per month so I do need to think of working on anything else," he adds.
Hoang Cong Thang, chairman of Dak Min's People's Commitee, said that he could not believe that someone who left school in sixth grade could invent a device like this.
"However, when I examined it, I realised that it was rather cumbersome and possibly expensive to make properly. I suggested that he remake it. The local authority is willing to support him if he intends to bring it to the market."
"Controlling devices by telephone is very popular in Viet Nam. There are many students who have applied this technique. For Toan, the biggest limitation is the cost."
"I really admire what he has done. Using the telephone light to activate the knife-switch represents a real technological breakthrough," says Professor Nguyen Ba Hai, from the Ho Chi Minh City Technology University.
In a remote province where people still struggle to make ends meet, Toan's innovation comes as a much-needed breath of fresh air. With his enthusiasm, it's likely that he will create something even greater in the years to come. — VNS