Hong Kong

Bringing light to the blind with 'smart cup'

By Nicole Wong (HK Edition)
Updated: 2006-10-13 06:24
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In celebration of the World Sight Day yesterday, local young inventor Chan Yik-hei unveiled his latest invention for the blind, a "Smart Cup" that will prevent water from overflowing.

Chan was appointed the Priority Academy Honourable Scholar of the "Seeing is Believing" (SiB) in 2006, a community programme launched by the Standard Chartered Bank three years ago to raise funds to cure treatable blindness.

The programme has so far raised US$3.8 million worldwide, thanks to the contribution by the bank's staff, business partners, customers and the members of the public.

The funds raised through SiB have allowed Orbis to provide eye examinations, surgery and treatment to numerous visually impaired patients, as well as restoring eyesight to almost 10,000 patients.

In his role as the honourable scholar of SiB, Chan came into contact with the visually impaired and was inspired to develop more affordable inventions to improve their lifestyle.

"One thing that I noticed was how blind people can burn themselves, when they're pouring hot water into a glass," said Chan. "So I decided to work on a cup that will prevent overflow," he said. The Smart Cup is made of a regular glass and an easy-to-make device. Two pieces of aluminum are glued to the rim of the glass, and connected to a censor and a beeping device at the bottom with electric wires.

The device will give an audible alert when water is about to reach the rim of the glass. It will also give out a vibration, so the user will get the signal even in a noisy area.

SiB ambassador Henry Wanyoike, a visually impaired Kenyan Paralympic gold medallist runner, tried the Smart Cup with Chan. The alert went off as water reached the specified level.

"I'm very excited about the cup," said Wanyoike. "It can make a difference in our daily life and most of us will be able to afford it, since all the components cost less than HK$50 and are readily available at shops," Wanyoike said. As the Smart Cup was conceived as a DIY device, Chan said he would not apply for a patent. He may also conduct workshops to promote the design, so the cup will become a part of the daily life of the visually impaired.

After the cup, Chan will work on inventing learning and reading aids for the blind, such as glasses equipped with image recognition technology.

"In the future I hope to invent more useful and affordable devices for people with other disabilities," Chan said. "They'll most likely be unpatented, so they can benefit as many people as possible," he said.

(HK Edition 10/13/2006 page2)