Sun, Sep 04, 2005 - Page 17 News List

Inventor overcomes adversity to find success

One of the keys to Taiwan's economic miracle has been its inventiveness. This is exemplified by the story of Chen Yung-hsin and his 'emergency escape elevator device'

By Derek Lee  /  STAFF REPORTER

Inventor Chen Yung-hsin's ``emergency escape elevator device'' can free passengers trapped in an elevator.

The prospect of getting trapped inside a malfunctioning elevator car is not pleasant, but it is not an uncommon occurrence. The feeling of losing control, claustrophobia and a lack of oxygen can lead to emotional trauma, panic attacks and even death, particularly if rescuers are slow in extricating passengers.

For every successful inventor dozens fail to get their creations off the ground and no matter how good the invention financial hardship and a lack of support is a cross that many local originators struggle with. Taiwanese inventor Chen Yung-hsin (陳永欣) is ahead of the pack, and demonstrates that sheer determination and an innovative solution to everyday problems can triumph.

Last week 22 people were stuck in a malfunctioning elevator in Kaohsiung for almost an hour, with two passengers rushed to hospital suffering from a lack of oxygen. According to industry figures, more than 200 elevators break down every month in Taipei alone. And the problem is not just confined to Taipei. A recent earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale in Japan reportedly halted 47,000 elevators.

The problem of malfunctioning elevators bothered Chen, an elevator technician and salesman from Tainan, for years. Chen, in his early 50s and a one-time national team tennis player, trained in automatic control engineering at Feng Chia University (逢甲大學) in Taichung.

It was after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York that Chen heard the story of a volunteer worker from the philanthropic Tzu-chi Foundation (慈濟功德會) of Taiwan, who was trapped inside an elevator in the ill-fated World Trade Center for over one-and-a-half hours before he perished when the towers collapsed. During his confinement, the man made phonecalls back to Taiwan to his family seeking help, but to no avail. That tragic story inspired Chen to search for a safety device for elevators.

Saving lives

Chen pondered, "Why are lives lost in situations like these when modern technology is so advanced? Elevator passengers have the right not to be trapped, not to mention lose their lives. And yet, mechanical failures often happen."

Chen therefore embarked on a plan to design an "emergency escape elevator device," as he now calls it, which enables passengers to escape when an elevator breaks down.

Initially Chen spent about six months examining the technical issues involved in his plan, and then bet all he had on the project. He then worked day and night in his small workshop at home. His financial resources were depleted within a few months and he had to borrow money from friends, relatives and banks, in addition to selling many of his valuables. At one point, he sold his car and the financial burden nearly put an end to his project.

Chen suffered serious depression in 1999 after being fleeced by one of his close friends for over NT$12 million in a failed investment venture. Chen's depression lasted two years.

Fortunately, through his wife's constant care and encouragement, he recovered from his mental problems. One morning last year while Chen was taking a walk with his wife in his neighborhood, the idea dawned on him of modifying the hydraulic cylinders that control the movement of elevators to solve the problem which had been bugging him for months. He rushed home with his wife to test out his idea which proved successful.

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