Maker | Taiwan Cases
Most makers share the common characteristic-they don’t satisfy de facto status and are brave to make a change. Ji Zhengran, the founder of THLight Co. and “Twilight Project”, have more understanding what difficulties the disabled people will face in normal life, because of his father born with hearing impairment.
Creativity always comes from dissatisfaction of some inconvenient, then start to finding how to resolve relevant problems.
The world seems to have long time to ignore the needs of the visually impaired as said by Ji Zhengran, the founder of THLight Co., Ltd., and “Twilight Project”. He also indicated that humans have invented the first guiding cane as early as 1921, while technology and ideas have great progress after 100 years later, there are no better convenient tools beside the guiding crane for supporting the visually impaired as they go out.
As an engineer, Ji Zhengran decided to solve the problem himself. He said that it is quite important for engineers to comprehend problems before solving them. It is necessary to dig out the essence behind the problems and dismantle them one by one. For example, you found there is a spread of oil on the ground. The solution is not just wipe it off with a rag, but you need to find out what caused the machine leaking, otherwise there is always an oil stain appeared. However, how long will it take for people from “thinking” to “doing”？In order to really understand life difficulties of the visually impaired, Ji Zhengran have put himself experience “invisible” life for two years to fully comprehend the true problems what they faced.
Wearing a blind eye mask and holding the guide cane for almost two years, Ji Zhengran started to experience the life of hitting on the ground for the path. He explained that the vision of a visually impaired person is divided into the “lower view” below the waist and the “upper view” above the chest. That is not easy to encounter obstacles in the head area, so most visually impaired use their guiding cane to recognize the path underfoot.
During the period when Ji Zhengran prevented to be sightless, he realized that “walking” is the priority for blind people. When they enter a new environment, he will feel fear and rejection because of the unfamiliar atmosphere around him. As time goes by, they will become unwilling to go out, or will only walk and live in an environment where they already familiar with.
Beacons—a Micro-Positioning Device
In recent years, the Internet of Things（IoT）and Big Data have become the spotlight in scientific and technological paradigm. Less than a palm size, a Beacon transmitter is like a lighthouse in the ecosystem of IoT, and it has become a data collector. Ji Zhengran said that Beacon is like a lighthouse that keeps transmitting signals. When the mobile phone enters the illuminated area of the lighthouse, the mobile phone will receive the signal from Beacon. And as the mobile phone’s app detects it, it can proceed with a subsequent series of triggers and responses.
In fact, Beacon’s micro-positioning function can be positioned more accuracy within 2 to 100 meters indoor which be compared with outdoor GPS（Global Positioning system）. Some retail businesses such as Tesco and Macy’s have embraced Beacon technology. In Macy’s stores, there are more than 4,000 Beacons for consumer shopping and navigation; Tesco even lets the user create a shopping list on the designated mobile app. When the user enters the store, the phone will inform the locations of each product and thus save the consumer’s shopping time.
This technology allows shopping mall owners collect more accurate locations of customers as well as specific booths. It will convey the product promotion information to customers via mobile phones. That is what they call “Precise Marketing technology”, which combines “geographic proximity” and “personalized habits”. And Ji Zhengran uses this equivalent technology to help the visually impaired navigation. Those broadcast location information about neighborhood facilities, and surrounding environment for the visually impaired through the mobile phone.
The Twilight Project makes the visually impaired like to “go out.”
Since 2009, Ji Zhengran has applied Beacon technology to help visually impaired people navigation. A visually impaired person as he turns on the Bluetooth of the mobile phone that will receive the signal from the Beacon transmitter through the app, Then mobile phone will have voice report to the blind where the elevator, bookcase and relevant location information, and then help visually impaired person to establish a sense of security as he gets in a strange environment. Not only saving time, beacon technology also enhance the self-confidence of visually impaired and make them like “going out”. Mr. Wang, a visually impaired teacher, believes that Beacon’s “Twilight Project” provides instant-help and broadcast more accurate information than Google Maps App. After using this technology, Zhang Jinshun, a visually impaired person, feels more secure and confidence, and then he can walks faster.
Nowadays, there are 2,259 intersections in Taipei City, and the total amount of sound signals installation will cost NTD840 million. Beacon will save about NTD780 million as them be installed at all intersections of Taipei. “Twilight Project” uses Beacon technology to provide navigation information for visually impaired people, which has greatly reduced the cost of building up traffic signal and prevented them from danger. That also restores their confidence via audible navigation when being placed in strange environment. In 2013, “Twilight Project” was awarded twice of honorable “The KEEP WALKING FUND”, After getting funded, again he set up more navigation devices for the sight impaired at the Foundation of Taiwan Private Rehabilitation Institute, the Eden Social Welfare Foundation, the Smart Street of Chengdu Road, and the Library of National Chung Hsing University.
After various examination, Zhengran start to consider the next stage of the Twilight Project.
However, Ji Zhengran thought that the Twilight Project still has not reached to the well status of applicable, practical and ideal for general sight impaired. For example, in the library of Chung Hsing University, there are many bookcases and shelves. Visually impaired people may get stuck in the bookcase after they went to wrong aisle or wrong paths because of individual or system errors .The small size Beacon can be made as like stickers and help the visually impaired to identify positions of the elevator or a bookshelf by voice broadcast, however, it is not suitable in the very noisy environments.
Till now, the best target practice for the “Twilight Project” may be useful in “substantial” or relatively quiet places, such as the museum or an art gallery. By broadcasting the artworks in the exhibition hall to explain the content of masterpieces made the life of the visually impaired more colorful. Hence, the project to install beacon in the National Chung Hsing University Art Center and the National Taiwan Prehistoric Culture Museum, is expected to become the best practice for guide system for blind people.
After various pilot test practices, Ji Zhengran asks questions to himself. For example, since GPS positioning system works well outdoor “Which role can Beacon play around the indoor area？”, “What kind of problem has still not been resolved by others？”, “Can he solve them？”, “Who is buyer for such system？”, and “What components must be done by him？” and etc. Through countless exams and self-reflective processes, he has more ideas about what the next step and direction are.
Ji Zhengran said he likes to dismantle a big problem into smaller pieces. It is just as the process what makers are doing, step by step, disassemble, research, assemble, try, and test. He starts to achieve some small goals each by each. And he was setting new schedule for each goal. For example, before 2017, the “Twilight Project” set the goal to make a beacon that can broadcast voice signal. And the recent three-month goal is to let 100 people with visual impairment experience the beacon system to improve their life quality. Over the years, Ji Zhengran’s entrepreneurial approach has solved many big projects with the least amount of resources and existing technology to achieve each goal and great solutions that no one has ever completed.
Ideal and Reality, like the Balance as Riding a Bicycle
In fact, the “Twilight Project” is only one part of his business, as Ji Zhengran said. He founded the THLight Co., Ltd., which specializes in medical and industrial fields. Only his business can make profit, then the “Twilight Project” can go further, and there are enough engineers who can complete each dismantle project from “Twilight Project.”
For him, ideals and reality are just like to ride a bicycle, you need to keep left and right pedals balance. The reality is on the left and the ideal is on the right. When the both sides are balanced, they can move forward quickly. When they are out of balance, they will fall. Fortunately, so far, every time they fall over, they can still climb up and they still can stand up.
Ji Zhengran believes that the social atmosphere always seems to encourage young people to embrace their dreams, but the process of building dreams which need to step by step, that is never an easy job. Many reforms and innovations often come from dissatisfaction with reality difficulties. Instead of playing lip service and drawing a distant vision, it is better to move forward step by step and strive for each minor success toward a big goal. Ji Zengran continuously said “The ideal is a dream. The ideal needs to achieve some success for supporting. If you faced all frustration, then the ideal won’t let you go far.”
“The sky is still dark, and the twilight has not been lighting yet.” Ji Zhengran dreams there is one day, he can put a large world map on the wall. And in everyday, there are cities’ light constantly turning to white, and jumping out a number which showing how many visually impaired people around the world are using his device. That is moment what he will feel all complete.
Beacon：Beacon is a small device that uses Bluetooth technology to transmit signals. It can send information to mobile devices in the communication range through Bluetooth wisdom, to receive signals from Beacon, and perform a subsequent series of triggers and responses. It can apply to indoor navigation, mobile payments, shopping guides and other activities related to indoor crowds.
- Twilight Project（https://www.facebook.com/BeaconTW/）
- In addition to the Twilight Project, another team in Taiwan, “Advanced Awareness”（ABCsense, http://www.abcsense.com.tw/）, further integrates software and hardware technology, and is committed to providing services for the disabled through Internet of Things technology.