Scientist shines light for visually impaired

Update: January, 31/2016 - 09:29

Gift of sight: Nguyen Ba Hai helps a visually impaired girl use his special glasses. — Photo

by Ha Nguyen

Nguyen Ba Hai is Viet Nam's first inventor of haptic eyes which serves Vietnamese and foreigners who suffer from varying degrees of blindness.

Dr Hai's project, where he produced glasses for the visually-impaired, became the hottest topic of debate during a meeting between Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and outstanding young scientists last September.

Within 10 minutes of the presentation of his project, PM Dung decided to pump in US$1 million and assign the Minister of Science and Technology and Secretary of the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Central Committee to co-ordinate with Hai to set up a concrete scheme to produce haptic eyes.

Hai recalled that during his working tours to remote and isolated areas he was so moved to meet and see visually-impaired people, the difficulties they faced in their daily life and activities.

"Their difficult circumstances compelled me to research and invent haptic eyes, a pair of special glasses for the visually-impaired," Hai said.

After a year of research and a lot of hard work, in 2011, Hai produced the first glasses which weighed 2 kilograms and cost VND20 million each.

"I thought it was not suitable for the blind in terms of its weight and price, so I continued to invest my time and efforts in improving the products.

"After numerous attempts, I can now produce the items (as normal glasses) at VND2 million each," Hai said.

He has presented more than 1,000 haptic-eye glasses to the blind.

Nguyen Minh Sang, 12, a student at the Nguyen Dinh Chieu School for Blind Students, said thanks to Dr Hai's glasses, he could now use a computer.

"It is helpful for my daily activities such as defining an obstacle around me at a distance of 120 centimetres."

Hai said many foreigners who were blind from countries such as Germany, Spain and the United States had ordered his items.

"I am trying to improve the glasses so that the visually-impaired can see colours and images. The items are expected to be finished this year," he said.

It is estimated that Viet Nam has about 300,000 people who suffer from complete visual impairment and 1.2 million others facing blindness in varying degrees. They all need Hai's glasses.

Hai's invention has received a copyright from the Ministry of Science and Technology.

Markku Rissanen, lecturer at the Finland Jamk Pedagogy University, said "Hai is a really talented scientist who is kind-hearted towards his community."

A company wanted to pay Hai VND2.3 billion for his haptic eyes' copyright.

"It is a big amount for us, but I refused because I wanted my invention to belong to my community, particularly the visually impaired," he said.

To make his life a success and become an outstanding young scientist, Hai had to overcome his disadvantaged childhood in a poor farmer's family in the central province of Thanh Hoa's Dong Son District.

He had to do many extra jobs while studying at school to help his parents earn a living such as working in the field for them and others. Poverty and hardship prompted Hai to learn at HCM City's University of Technology and Education in 2001.

To earn money for his studies and pursue his passion of playing Robocon (a competition launched by the Association of the Asia's Broadcast and Television) annually from 2002 to now, Hai had to do more than 20 different jobs such as selling glasses and watches, and even worked as a photocopy worker.

"Those days fed the passion of invention in me, which was enough to fructify my dream of studying abroad to be in tune with the world's science and technology," Hai said.

His dream came true when he became the leading graduate from the HCM City's University of Technology and Education and won a full scholarship for an MA degree of the Government of South Korea to pursue the Biological Robot, a potential technology sector after the Internet era.

However, this was still a sector in its nascent stages around the world, particularly in Viet Nam.

"When I started my studies in South Korea, my mind was empty, I lacked understand of everything, and especially knowledge, even though I had joined Robocon contests for three consecutive years in Viet Nam.

"Faced with numerous difficulties, sometimes I wanted to drop out of the university, but I told myself I had to try my best to learn in class, and from my friends and teachers outside class," Hai said.

His efforts had paid off, because in just the first two years he bagged three invention certificates. His inventions were delivered to companies in the South Korea.

At the age of 27, he finished his doctorate in South Korea. He was invited to work in the country at a starting salary of $5,000 per month, but he refused to return to Viet Nam to work at his old university in HCM City's research laboratory.

By the end of 2010, he opened a one-dollar course to train programmers. To date, such similar courses have been opened in six provinces and cities in Viet Nam attracting about 10,000 people comprising students, workers and the elderly who have a passion for programming technology.

"Apart from the official hours in the university, I do extra work such as teaching and consulting in technology for enterprises to earn money to maintain the course," Hai said.

Nguyen Huu Quy, president of the Kien Binh Minh Company's Management Board in HCM City, said he had rarely met such a young talent as kind-hearted as Hai.

"He is as young as my second son, but I still call him teacher and wish to be a sponsor for his research without any consideration," Quy said.

Hai, now heads the HCM City's University of Technology and Education's Department of Invention and Start-up, and his colleagues are developing a Take-Away coffee chain with the first and sole make-up technology between Viet Nam, Japan and Italy to tap the country's potential coffee materials produced by Vietnamese farmers.

He was the first scientist to deliver a speech which received much attention from the media and most of the participants at the National Congress of Patriotic Emulation held in Ha Noi last month. — VNS