While engineering professor Liu Jen-sen (劉振森) manually took the temperature of hundreds of students entering the building, he was sure there was a more efficient way to complete the annoying task.
With hundreds of students entering National Taiwan University’s (NTU) Electrical Engineering Building every period, the exercise put faculty in close proximity with visitors when social distancing was crucial to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
Liu immediately had a eureka moment, headed to his basement workshop and cobbled together a prototype for Prevention No 1 (防疫一號), an automated temperature measuring station.
Photo: Han Cheung, Taipei Times
With infrared thermal camera systems costing up to NT$500,000, Liu’s was a steal at NT$6,000.
Prevention No 1 is now used across campus and in other institutions. The latest version at NTU’s main entrances, which costs about NT$12,000, can even scan visitor’s ID cards and transmit the information to a central database.
Photo: Han Cheung, Taipei Times
Liu is one of several Taiwanese who have gained attention for their inventions to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lai Hsien-yung (賴賢勇), an anesthesiologist with Mennonite Christian Hospital developed a simple protective device for use when intubating patients, and Soochow University physics professor Chen Chiu-min (陳秋民) made aN ultraviolet disinfection device for masks using common household goods.
Both Lai and Chen have shared their designs with the public. Liu had planned to keep Prevention No 1 for campus use only, but his department head Wu Chung-chih (吳忠幟) and college dean Chang Yao-wen (張耀文) convinced him to publicize the blueprints and hold a press conference to promote them.
“I was just responding to a problem caused by the pandemic,” Liu says. “I wasn’t thinking of making a big deal out of it; I just wanted to make things more convenient for everyone.”
Since then, public institutions and private companies have built their own versions of the apparatus, and a group of NTU alumni subsidized the construction of close to 80 devices for others in need.
Growing up watching MacGyver, a show about a man who uses scientific knowledge to get out of tough situations, Liu dreamed of becoming a heroic inventor.
More prosaically, he designed a sensor system years ago that would alert security if a person fell or jumped onto the tracks of Taipei’s Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), but dropped the project after learning that the corporation had installed automatic platform gates.
Liu also considered doing something with no-touch elevator buttons when the pandemic hit, but temperature monitoring was more urgent. Liu says that in addition to the cost, infrared thermal cameras are easily affected by the environment and require someone to monitor them constantly.
The first version was not automatic. Users stepped on a button, which activated the thermometer gun.
He automated the device by affixing the gun to an infraired sensor — the kind found on auto-flush toilets — and adding a battery pack.
The process from concept to creation took just two weeks, and upon installation, it significantly reduced queuing times.
The ID-scanner function was developed by the NTU Maker Club, which continues to tinker with the device to bolster its capabilities.
Liu hopes to release Prevention No 2, which, in addition to yet-to-be-revealed upgrades, will look more like a product instead of a makeshift contraption.
“I don’t know exactly how many places are using the device,” Liu says. “But whenever someone manages to build one and shares their results with us, it makes me very happy.”
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