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Old 07-04-14, 09:09 AM
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Default The true spirit of innovation By Vinusha Paulraj

From: Abey_at_Heathfield <abey@heathfield.org.uk>
Sent: Sunday, 6 April 2014 6:03 PM
Subject: Thomian spirit...!!
Sunday, March 30, 2014


The true spirit of innovation
By Vinusha Paulraj

Hoping to ease the hardships of hearing and speech impaired, young Thomians Vinoth Krishan and Afzal Fasehudeen created the ‘Spoker900’, a gadget that has earned them a visit to NASA

“We saw this guy in a phone shop,” 18-year-old Afzal Fasehudeen recalls “he couldn’t hear or speak and the salesman didn’t understand his sign language.” Saddened that this person had to go away empty-handed because no one could help him, classmates Vinoth Krishan and Afzal Fasehudeen came up with a solution. That solution –a gadget they call Spoker900, entered into an international competition- the Conrad Foundation’s Spirit of Innovation Challenge, has now earned them a visit to the NASA Johnson Space Center and Space Center Houston, Texas USA next month.
Having joined S. Thomas’ College to do their A-Levels these science enthusiasts admit that they “do science because we love the subject.” Classmates since about a year ago, they started discussing how they could use what they know to make communication more inclusive since May last year when they saw the hardships the hearing and speech impaired go through.
Tossing ideas around was all they did until one Wednesday last June when the Innovation Club of S. Thomas’ College was launched. Designed to encourage the younger generation to give innovation a shot, in partnership with 3M Lanka (Pvt) Ltd and the Embassy of the USA it was here that Master in Charge, Asanka S. Perera and the rest of the world discovered that Vinoth and Afzal maybe on to something.
Sharing that at least a dozen students had been inspired to put their innovations out there, Mr. Perera has since last June come to hear and encourage many claims of “Sir! I have an idea!”
“We got to know about the Spirit of Innovation Challenge only in October,” said Afzal. That left them just a week to submit an application with the details of their product. The duo spent countless hours doing research and arguing concepts to produce the paper that saw them through to the semi-finals of the Conrad Foundation’s Spirit of Innovation Challenge.
The Spoker900 is a nifty little gadget that is deceptively powerful. Weighing in at just 15 grams it enables a speech or hearing impaired person to communicate with people who don’t understand sign language. “It’s quite simple,” Vinoth says, “All you need is the Spoker900 and a device that runs on an android platform with Bluetooth facility.” While the Spoker’s camera captures sign language and via Bluetooth transports it to the android device, an application on the android device turns these signs to sound, “in real time.”
Hoping that Sri Lanka’s speech and hearing impaired can now communicate and be understood, the boys first programmed the software to respond to local sign language. Declaring that any sign language can be programmed into the software by the user, the boys have made even introductions shorter and easier ensuring “the user can program any amount of proper nouns, including their names.”
Gearing up to sit for their Advanced Levels in August this year and putting together a stellar product worthy of being in the finals of the Spirit of Innovation was a massive effort because “we had to manage juggling work during the school term,” Afzal explains. That meant the boys had plenty of sleepless nights and many back -to -the -drawing board moments. Afzal had to set aside his other interests like swimming and rifle shooting, and Vinoth too gave archery, swimming and his avid interest in 3D architecture models a rest to focus purely on getting through to the finals.
“After submitting the presentation there was a countdown timer,” recalls Vinoth who checked the Conrad Foundation’s website every

Beyond their wildest hopes: Vinoth Krishan (left) and Afzal Fasehudeen
day. On February 21, he woke up at 3 a.m. because his nerves didn’t let him sleep. With a thumping heart and shaking fingers he says he watched “and the timer just froze at zero.” Refreshing the web page with an unsteady hand and an almost dizzy feeling he remembers waiting for what seemed like eons for the page to load. “Our category- Cyber Technology and Security was listed third,” he says. He almost lost hope that they were not listed among the first two teams in this category and then remembers screaming when he saw their team Quantum Spoker on the screen as a finalist among the four other finalists.
Along with 20 other teams who have made it to the finals, Quantum Spoker will fly out to the space stations in the USA, for a summit from April 10-12, where they will present their product- the Spoker900.
For Vinoth going to NASA is a manifestation of a childhood dream. Wanting to be an astronaut when he was younger, a trip to NASA at just 18 is just “beyond even imagination.” Hoping to be an electronic engineer with a PhD in robotics, he is most excited about the prospect of all the things he could learn from this trip. Afzal who wants to be a mechanical innovator on the other hand wants to “meet all the scientists present there.”
Being the only Sri Lankan team out of the four foreign teams in the finals, the boys feel honoured to represent their school and country. Grateful to everyone who supported them, they are packing their bags in the hope that sponsors will see the same promise in them that the Conrad Foundation sees and be generous enough to invest in their endeavour.
Warden of S. Thomas’ College, Prof. Indra De Soysa is delighted that team ‘Quantum Spoker’ is a positive example to inspire other boys. Glad that the boys are able to “think on their feet” and not just cram for an exam, he says with immense pride that the boundaries of the classroom are extending to real life situations and are no longer limited to the confines of just pages.
Happy that the first school they worked with is doing so well, 3M is hoping to take this initiative to other parts of the country in the near future, looking to the Thomian Innovation Club for leadership
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