Creative minds

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 June, 2008, 12:00am

Almost all inventors start by taking electric appliances apart at home. Award-winning inventors Steven Lau Tak-shing, Ivan Lau Tak-kin and Cody Yu Kung-ho are no exceptions.

The trio flew to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) in Atlanta, US, last week to present their inventions alongside 1,500 young inventors from around the world.

Steven and Ivan won a Second Award in the Engineering category and US$1,500 for their project, the 21st century miracle lock.

'Two years ago when we attended a class about lock-making, we learned that a lock-picking device called a bump key can open almost all kinds of locks in just 10 seconds and without a trace,' says Steven, a student from Maryknoll Fathers' School.

'There is a lot of information online about bump keys - it's so simple that even a five-year-old child can use one,' says Ivan, Steven's classmate.

Both Steven and Ivan have always enjoyed dismantling things - anything from gas stoves to washing machines - to see how they work.

'Sometimes the appliances don't work after I reassemble them. My parents get cross because they have to buy new ones, and they scold me,' says Steven.

The idea of taking a lock apart came naturally to the duo. They decided to replace the brass pins inside the lock with magnetic material, slightly altering the mechanism to prevent the lock from being bumped. Their invention has been granted a patent in Hong Kong and bought by a mainland manufacturer.

For Cody, the US$500 award for his advanced version anti-drink driving device (AVADD) is a big step toward realising his dream of becoming an inventor.

'I got the ideas for AVADD from reports of drink-driving accidents in the news. In my design, drivers have to pass a breathing test before they can turn on the car engine. The alcohol tester is connected to the steering wheel, and it is activated only when the driver puts both hands on the wheel,' says Cody, a Form Four student at SKH Li Ping Secondary School.

'I've always liked finding out how things work. I used to take apart malfunctioning hairdryers and computers. When I started secondary school, I started inventing.'

Dr Jimmy Kam-yiu Wong, director of Hong Kong New Generation Cultural Association Science Innovative Centre, who accompanied the students to Atlanta, points out that there are many keen young inventors in the city.

'Many young people are inspired by celebrity student inventor Chan Yik-hei. He won the same prize as Steven and Ivan at the Intel ISEF four years ago.'