Sun, Oct 08, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Move over Q: Thai inventor specializes in security tools

AFP , SAMUT PRAKARN, THAILAND

Thai workers check a gun that fires ''bullets'' of water and is used to clear bombs at a factory in Samut Prakarn last month. Songphol Eiamboonyarith designs many of the devices at the factory to help Thailand's security forces combat an Islamic insurgency in Muslim-majority provinces along the southern border.

PHOTO: AFP

Songphol Eiamboonyarith grew up on a remote military base in northeastern Thailand where his main pleasure as a child was watching the television spy series Mission: Impossible.

Songphol says that following the adventures of American secret agents Dan Briggs and Jim Phelps in the series, which originally aired from 1966 to 1973, helped nurture a dream that he shared with millions of adventurous and ambitious boys the world over.

"I told myself I want to work like that," Songphol said. "I thought that in the future I could help many, many people in the fight against terrorism."

The difference however is that Songphol did make his dream come true -- not as the spy but as the back-room brains because he took his inspiration from Q, the genius behind James Bond's indispensable gadgets.

Like Q, who designed ejection seats for Aston Martins, pens that could be used as grenades and wristwatches with tiny saws that could cut through rope, Songphol invents gadgets for Thailand's real-life security forces.

He began putting his obsession for making security paraphernalia into action when he was just 12 years old, raiding his mother's closet for scraps of plastic that he fashioned into a supposedly "bullet-proof" vest. Thankfully, he laughs, it was never put to the test.

After he graduated from university with a degree in engineering, Songphol, who at 52 is married with two adult children, spent a decade in the army where he built a knowledge of ordnance and explosives.

Upon his discharge, he established Precipart Co and began creating tools for Thailand's military that melded his academic and military expertise with his rich imagination.

In the early days it was a matter of trial and error as, Q-like, he turned ordinary objects into both life-saving devices and deadly weapons.

Now Songphol's business operates out of a 6,000m2 factory outside Bangkok, employs 400 people and has produced more than 50 devices for Thailand's military.

Above all, Songphol says, his aim has been to enhance the safety of the men in the field and help them protect ordinary Thais from insurgents and terrorists.

"Life is very, very important," he says. "My equipment is invented to save human life."

The long list of his inventions certainly reads like something out of a spy novel, and many have been patented in Thailand -- like the truncheon that fires a net so that police can capture runaway suspects, the umbrella and the walking stick that double as guns, and the blast-proof shield that can protect people from the impact of car bombs.

Songphol says he's most proud of the rubber bullets, bulletproof vests and stun bombs that he personally designed for the Thai forces. He believes that this type of equipment can save lives and help defuse tense situations by giving authorities better protection and non-lethal ways of dealing with crowds.

While there has as yet been no need for his devices in the wake of the bloodless military coup that toppled the Thai government on Sept. 19, many of Songphol's inventions are used in the country's Muslim-majority provinces along the southern border with Malaysia, where an insurgency has been bubbling under for the past few years.

Some 1,500 people have been killed since unrest erupted in the region more than two years ago, in what officials say is a volatile mix of separatism, organized crime and local police corruption.

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