Looking to the horizon with bigger dreams
For the six nominees for the ‘The Ray’ award, there was that really long moment just before the winner was announced–that moment of nail-biting tension; of pressing suddenly clammy hands together and trying to maintain a calm demeanor.
For 50-year-old I.S. Waidiyarathna Karunatilake, however, the excitement was just beginning, as he emerged the star of the night, clinching the inaugural ‘The Ray’ award for Innovation.
“I am really happy and excited,” said Mr. Karunatilake, all smiles as he held on tightly to the coveted ‘The Ray’ award, won for his invention of an eco-friendly boat. Karunatilake was not alone in his excitement. His wife and his little two-year-old daughter, who had accompanied him to the awards ceremony, were delighted when they heard his name announced as the winner.
“My family just can’t believe it,” he said beaming.
The award ceremony, held on October 17, at the King’s Court, Cinnamon Lakeside, saw the presentation being made before an august gathering of academics and eminent personalities from Sri Lanka and abroad.
The Ray Wijewardene Charitable Trust (RWCT) established in the memory of that visionary man of science and inventor Dr. Ray Wijewardene, in collaboration with the Sri Lanka Inventors Commission (SLIC) and the Commercial Bank launched the ‘The Ray’ award aiming to create the framework for another Ray to emerge. The award is given as a means of encouraging on-going innovation and enterprise in areas of public interest and continuing Dr. Ray Wijewardene’s vision of innovation.
‘The Ray’ will be a lifetime, biennial award with the Commercial Bank providing a grant of Rs. one million to the winner.
The bank will hold the money for the winner, releasing the necessary amount as per the requirement of the inventor as he develops and commercialises his invention. The University of Moratuwa will provide the technical support needed to convert the invention to a product or process ready for the market.
“There is potential in the country and more people should come forward to motivate budding inventors and innovations,” said Commissioner, Sri Lanka Inventors Commission and member of the panel of judges, Deepal Sooriyarachchi.
Nurturing such innovations was of paramount importance as it would contribute immensely to the betterment of the country, Mr. Sooriyarachchi said.
Selecting the winner was an unenviable task for the panel of judges. Having received applications from 56 Presidential Award winners of the Sri Lanka Inventors Commission, the judges had to pick the crème de la crème of Sri Lankan inventors.
The idea and the unique thinking behind the creation, the extent to which the idea has evolved from a concept to reality and been converted to a product or service and the socio-economic impact of the invention, were the main criteria considered in choosing the winner.
“I am greatly encouraged by this award and this is the dawn of a new era for innovations in Sri Lanka” said Mr. Karunatilake who was full of praise for the award ceremony which was “innovative and well organised.” What is it about the eco-friendly boat that has won him so many awards?
The boat, made of steel and aluminum which can be recycled, is unlike the usual motorboats made of fibre glass which cannot be recycled or destroyed, as destroying fibre glass would cause much pollution to the environment. Further, anodic protection has been used which reduces corrosion and makes the boat durable. Mr. Karunatilake says that the boat can transport up to 50 passengers or cargo weighing 4000 kg.
Mr. Karunatilake has also changed the shape of the hull so that it is not symmetric as in other boats. Thus, waves are not generated when the boat travels through the water. This results in not only a smooth ride, but preservation of the environment too as river bank erosion and destruction of the life-cycle of creatures living in the river occur only when waves are generated.
Further, when using normal boats, energy is wasted as the waves carry the energy to the river banks. However, in Mr. Karunatilake’s boat, the wave energy is re-used as the propeller runs on the energy contained in the waves and fuel consumption is less as energy is not spent in wave generation.
The inventor also assures that the chances of water filling the boat and the risk of the boat sinking are minimal, for there are no airspaces in this boat, as found in others as the entire boat is filled with foam.
Mr. Karunatilake hopes that this invention will prove to be not only an alternate mode of transport, but also an asset to the tourist industry as well as playing an important role in rescue operations in disaster management cases such as flooding of rivers.
Now, having bagged ‘The Ray’ award, his horizons have widened and he is dreaming bigger! He spoke of how he wanted to make the boat one hundred percent eco-friendly and inculcate the gasification process initially introduced to Sri Lanka by Dr. Ray Wijewardene. This would mean replacing the use of fuel such as petroleum with energy generated by organic material which is environment friendly. He added that so far, gasification has been used only in factories and not in vehicles.
“I could not proceed with this research due to lack of funds, but now that I have won this award, I can go ahead,” enthuses Mr. Karunatilake adding that he will be working towards introducing his invention to the international arena as well.
The run-up to this invention and winning the award, meant quite a few hardships and sacrifices for the Karunatilake family. A father of three – two daughters and one son – Mr. Karunatilake, gave up his career as an accountant to run his own business in the fibre glass industry. He is involved in manufacturing spare parts for motor vehicles and in making canoes too.
The process of developing and building the boat drained the family’s finances and Mr. Karunatilake says they had to make many sacrifices to balance their expenses.
“However, my family was very supportive though life was hard during the past few years,” says Mr. Karunatilake.
All that has changed now. Winning ‘The Ray’ award was not just a personal victory for this unassuming yet persevering inventor but hopefully one that will further unleash his innovative skills.
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