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The Journey of Young Makers

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C55A6790This is the journey of a young mechatronic engineer who is the founder of Joint Rehabilitation Device project (JRD), Pham Nhat Tan, 23, who specialized in Mechatronics Engineering at Bach Khoa University in Ho Chi Minh City.

Mechatronics is a multidisciplinary field of science that combines mechanical engineering, electronics, computers, telecommunications, systems and control engineering. Tan is a fresh graduate student, having a passion for robotics and in love with machines having their own behaviour to support human’s lives. How they work, how to make them work hooked him.

Tan loves to challenge himself with new things and enjoys the sweet result that it brings to him after he conquers his successes or make him stronger anytime he fails. When Tan sees children with disabilities, it breaks his heart and it became a strong motivation for him to invent devices that help those kids to overcome their problems and difficulties in life.

Tan wishes to make his personal story become his team’s story, so “I” can become “We”. “I’m going to share our story in the simplest way so that everyone can understand the good cause of our project and join us to help the vulnerable groups in Viet Nam”. Pham Nhat Tan humbly said.

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The JRD group started as a research project turned into a start-up business. But to achieve their ultimate goals, they must adapt to be profitable and join the business world. But they want to show everyone that they are not just in for profits but they are also a social-based business too. They create good social value for the societies, especially children with disabilities. By understanding their mission clearly and committing to their core values they believe that profit will come to their business soon once their good core values shine.

“As a researcher, I see the world today full of solutions for disabilities, many of them still on paper. The world is driven by profitable businesses and profit is always the first priority, therefore it will slow down the creation for the disabilities. My instinct told me that I need to join the group of people who want to change the world, the ones who can change this sad reality. So I want to connect all robotic technology in the research world to help children and people with disabilities live a normal life and make their normal dream come true. That’s why this project is born and developed as today”.

Back in June, the JRD took part in the UNICEF and Partners (U.S. Consulate General in HCMC, the Israeli Trade Mission to Vietnam, UNICEF, DRD, Fablab Saigon, and Vietnam-German University) supported three-day Make-a-thon, TOM Viet Nam for children with disabilities. It has given JRD and other groups the opportunity to expose to an open environment where they can find more chances to make their research paper transform into a real physical prototype. During the event, JRD met with other teams of technical experts, who have the same dream and passion for robotics. They came to the events, shared their ideas, experiences and knowledge among themselves, and sometimes they even helped each other to overcome technical issues.

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After TOM Viet Nam, JRD continued to participate in Hatch Fair 2016 - Social Innovation Camp. Hatch Fair 2016 aims at discovering and developing scientific and technological innovations, turning them into sustainable solutions for issues in the field of environment, health, culture, education, and more. The teams with most potential products will continue to be supported, incubated, and funded towards sustainable start-ups and business. In 2016, the competition is organized nationwide in three big cities: Ha Noi, Da Nang, and Ho Chi Minh City. JRD product has captured good attention from potential investors, visitors and the group received good advice and suggestion from technical experts and engineers on how to improve the product to fit with the market.

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Need knower

Lieu Hoai An is a boy with disabilities who lives in HCMC. An can't walk on his own legs because they're weak. His muscles and joints are affected by a condition known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, so he needs an iron skeleton and wheelchair to move. It supports nearly 80% of his daily activities. In addition, An also has a problem with his arm. His right arm has been convulsive since he was a small kid. It makes it more difficult for him to hold anything. The other arm is not powerful enough to stay balanced. This disadvantage makes his disability even worse as only one side of his body can stay stable. 

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"When we saw An, he was sitting on wheelchair and had his mother thrusted out from classroom. He happily said "hi" to us and again kept his head down in order to hide his shyness". Tan said of the first time the group met with An.An always dreams to have an equipment which can help him to stretch his hands more easily and flexibly, hence, he doesn't have to face any challenges in holding things and moving in balance. This will help him to handle his daily activities more independently.

Challenges

Despite the fact that the group have many good strengths, they can’t deny that they also face many challenges that might become a great threat to dismiss their project. Tan worries that all team members having their own commitments and jobs means they might not have much time to meet and continue the project in high commitment mode. Everyone need to get a decent job and get well paid for their living, therefore the group could not focus on completing their prototype as planned. Lack of direction is also a big worry of the group as the prototype has to be tested on real patients and they must adapt its function based on the doctor’s advice in order to fit the patient’s needs. However, the team only have permission to test their product with the need knower, Lieu Hoai An. They don’t have a committed doctor who can provide medical advice for their product.
Aside from that, many team members don’t get support from their family to this project and it became a great source of pressure.

Support Needed

JRD’s plan is to complete the first prototype by mid-2017 and pretest in hospital and physical therapy centres. In order for JRD to keep their plan, they really need financial support from big international agencies, INGO, business, hospitals, and investors. They would like to call for support not only financially but also technical support from physical therapists, doctors, and engineers.

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Story and Photo by Truong Viet Hung

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