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Innovators hail the appliance of science in national S&T week

Luo Wangshu
Updated: Jun 16,2015 3:06 PM     China Daily

A young visitor to the expo plays with a pen that can create 3-D artworks.[Photo/China Daily]

College student Xie Liangqiu demonstrates his “mobile washtub” at the recent Beijing session of the National Science and Technology Week.[Photo/China Daily]

If you’ve ever wanted to play the piano but never found time to learn, He Yusha’s “piano trainer” may be just the thing. The attachment, which features a computerized tutor, can pare decades of repetitive practice down to less than a quarter of an hour.

“This device can teach anyone, with or without previous experience or the ability to read a score, to play a song in 10 minutes,” said He, founder and chief marketing officer of The One Piano Co, which makes the device in Beijing.

“I started learning piano at a young age, and I have a deep and abiding memory of just how boring the lessons were,” she said, adding that she also studied musical theory and constantly practiced scales, rhythm and fingering exercises, all of which was time-consuming.

“However, with the help of a smartphone, ‘the ONE’ can teach kids to play any song they want, and can also inspire them to continue playing on a conventional instrument,” she added.

She and her team conceived of and developed the attachment that plugs into an electric piano and uses a series of lights to mimic the arrangement of the keys. When the lights are connected to a smartphone and a tune is played on a purpose-designed music app, the lights indicate the correct sequence in which the notes should be played, allowing the player to press the correct keys. The app contains thousands of scores, so players never have to worry about running out of music.

Players follow the order of the lights above the keyboard, and can adjust the tempo on the app accordingly. Each musical phrase repeats until the player hits the keys in the correct sequence.

Since it was put on the market in October, the ONE, which costs about 4,000 yuan ($645), has become the best-selling online piano product in China and has garnered more than 2,000 positive reviews on one of the country’s largest online stores, according to He.

Promoting new ideas

The ONE was among nearly 300 inventions and projects on display at the recent Beijing session of China’s National Science and Technology Week, when universities and research institutes, such as the Chinese Academy of Sciences, opened their doors to the public. The event is held simultaneously in several locations across the country, including the municipalities of Chongqing and Shanghai.

The event, jointly organized by the Ministry of Science and Technology and the China Association for Science and Technology, is designed to promote scientific development and to provide young people with opportunities to study related subjects. It has been held every year since 2001 and has attracted more than 1 billion people during its 15-year history.

As an extension of the events held annually in exhibition halls, the ministry also invites scientists and professionals to visit poverty-stricken rural areas with the aim of providing assistance and educational programs. This year, experts visited residents of villages in the provinces of Shaanxi and Liaoning, providing medical know-how and advice on the successful introduction of new equipment and innovative production methods.

“Innovation in science and technology is the current priority because we need to stimulate people’s productivity,” said Zhao Xinli, deputy director of the ministry’s China Science and Technology Exchange Center.

Health benefits

Many of the exhibits on display were related to health and living standards. One of the most striking was a “rehabilitation wheelchair” that allows the user to perform a number of tasks that usually require the help of a caregiver.

“With this chair, people who require special attention can take care of themselves without a lot of outside assistance,” said inventor Liu Tienian, head of Beijing Ke Te, which manufactures components for the pneumatics and hydraulics industries. The chair, which is motorized and highly maneuverable, also includes special panels that can be programmed to rise or fall, allowing the user to stand or sit unaided and also exercise damaged or wasted muscles.

Now Liu and his team are working to install a commode, so users can “live” in the chair and still have access to exercise and sanitary facilities. That would reduce the workload for caregivers who would be able to prepare the patients’ daily necessities in the morning, and then return later in the day to clean up. “The patients will be virtually independent,” Liu said.

Zhao Long, a doctoral candidate in the mechanical engineering department at Tsinghua University, displayed his invention-an air purifier that so impressed the Beijing Science and Technology Commission that it provided development funding.

Traditional purifiers use physical filters to clean the air, but they have to be changed regularly, which can cost as much as 1,000 yuan a year. However, unlike conventional machines, Zhao’s invention uses water as a filter to clean the air. “I mimicked the cleansing mechanism of rain. The rate and density of the water droplets can be altered to suit local conditions and provide effective removal of pollution, including dust and gases,” Zhao said.

Mental health is as important as physical well-being, according to Zhang Bo, founder of Gold Noah, a start-up company that makes “meditation helmets” and mats. “People living in modern society are under a lot of pressure, which results in nerves and insomnia,” he said.

Zhang and his business partner met at Harvard University’s medical school, where they both worked as researchers. When they came up with the idea of meditation helmets and mats, they quit their jobs and returned to China to develop their invention.

The helmets collect brain waves, which are then transmitted to a computer app that uses carefully designed algorithms to select music appropriate for the user’s mental condition and also triggers a circuit that makes the mat vibrate accordingly, helping the user to relax.

Student societies

The government is also encouraging the country’s leading seats of learning to nurture innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit, which has led many schools to establish relevant programs.

Pei Jisheng and Wang Yifeng, both doctoral students at Tsinghua University, have incorporated a health monitor into a wristwatch, so that in addition to telling the time, the device also records the wearer’s blood pressure every two seconds.

“Our watch is unique because it tests blood pressure levels via an opto-electrical technique,” Wang said.

The innovation was developed at X-lab, Tsinghua’s innovation platform, which provides students with practical advice to help them make the most of their inventions.

More than 80 students have been involved in the development of the watch. “We know about science and technology, but we haven’t a clue when it comes to administration or marketing,” said computer student Wang. “X-lab is a place for people like us to meet and share ideas, and eventually to take action. It also provides invaluable guidance, such as training in administration and teamwork to increase the chances of success.”

Cycling fan Xie Liangqiu, a student in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, brought his bike to the Beijing event. However, it was no ordinary bike-the sophomore in the School of Mechanical Engineering at Southwest Jiaotong University has installed a small, pedal-driven washing machine behind the saddle so he can clean his clothes and enjoy his favorite pastime simultaneously. Every time the pedals turn a full revolution, the dirty clothes spin around the tub.

“The mechanism of the ‘mobile washtub’ is not advanced technology,” the 22-year-old said, peering through heavy, black-framed spectacles as he displayed the chain that links the pedals to the washer.

The invention was inspired by a practical need because Xie loves traveling by bike, but sometimes the journeys are long and arduous and he winds up “soaked with sweat”.

“The sweat often caused my skin to become pale and sometimes it itched badly too. That was annoying because during a bike trip no one wants to stop for a change of clothes. With the mobile washer, I can toss a dirty T-shirt or a pair of socks into the tub while I cycle,” he said. Xie recently updated the invention by installing a hand crank so he can use it in his dorm. “When I really don’t want to wash just a T-shirt by hand, I can roll the grip and make the washer do the job instead,” he said.

As a member of Maker Space, a club where student innovators gather, Xie encouraged Yu Zhiwei, a freshman, to display his own invention during science week.

Yu, 18, has installed a motor and a camera in a “walking suitcase” programmed to recognize and follow the color yellow. As a demonstration, Yu attached a yellow sticker to the heel of his shoe and as he walked, the suitcase followed in his wake like a clumsy duckling waddling after its mother.

The idea came to the Jiangsu province native when he moved to Chengdu and had to lug a huge suitcase with him. The memory is not one he savors, but Yu was inspired by what he saw around him.

“I saw mothers carrying a baby with one hand and a suitcase with the other, which was dangerous and inconvenient. The ‘walking suitcase’ frees up our hands and eases the problem,” Yu said. He is now working on programming a more sensitive recognition pattern to prevent the suitcase following the wrong owner by mistake. “That’s something we have to iron out-it could be pretty embarrassing otherwise,” he said with a smile.