When 14-year-old Hibar Syahrul Gafur saw a report that a girl his age had been subjected to a brutal gang-rape attack in India last July, he was profoundly affected by the news. “Women often become victims of sexual abuse because men consider them weak,” Hibar said.
Similar cases were making the news in Indonesia at the time, and the Bogor native feared for the safety of his 19-year-old sister. So, when the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) held a competition for young inventors last August, Hibar saw an opportunity to design something that women could use to ward off attackers.
“At first I planned to make a bra that could give out an electric shock, but it was too complicated to work in practice, so I finally settled on a shoe,” Hibar said.
His shoe featured a nine-volt battery packed into the sole along with circuitry to increase the voltage, all connected to two electrodes along the front of the shoe, which were cunningly disguised as decorative flourishes.
Kick someone with it, Hibar said, and the skin closes the circuit between the electrodes, delivering a jolt powerful enough to stun the attacker and give the woman sufficient time to make an escape.
“It’s quite effective,” he said. “If you get stunned, it’ll leave you disoriented for maybe one or two minutes.”
A crude design by his own admission, it was still good enough to win fifth prize in LIPI’s National Young Inventors Awards.
The accolade earned Hibar a berth on the Indonesian delegation to a bigger stage — the 2013 International Exhibition of Young Inventors in Malaysia, which was held last week in Kuala Lumpur.
Hibar returned home with a gold medal in the safety and health category. Two other Indonesian inventors also joined him at the top of the podium, while the delegation rounded out a successful trip with a brace of silver medals.
To compete against other talented youngsters from across the world, Hibar had to modify the design from the unpolished prototype that first earned him the ticket to Malaysia.
“I came up with a whole new model for my shoe. Before, it wasn’t waterproof, so I made it waterproof,” he said. “I also increased the voltage of the electric shock, from 220 volts to 450 volts, and I optimized the design so that it could fit into a three-centimeter wedge heel from the five-centimeter one before.”
As many inventors the world over would no doubt testify, funding is something of a hurdle. And it was no different for Hibar.
Hardware was the main drain. It would cost at least Rp 2 million ($205), with most of the money going on buying the power supply and attendant circuitry.
“And there was always the risk that the Rp 2 million would be used up in a single trial, because the circuitry could be fried after one use,” Hibar said. “Fortunately my parents supported me. My mother said I could use the money that they had saved for when I went to senior high school.”
His teachers at State Junior High School (SMP) No. 1 in Bogor were also supportive of the project, but said the school could not afford to pay for its development.
That prompted Hibar to write a proposal to Diani Budiarto, the mayor of Bogor, but to date the rookie inventor has not received a response.
Yusuar, LIPI’s head of science development, said he believed more needed to be done to support innovation by the country’s youth. The private sector should become more involved in developing homegrown inventions for commercial release, he said.
“If we can, we’d like to help the inventors from the IEYI competition get patents for their designs, or have the private sector show some interest,” he said.
“That would be ideal, although I think it’s going to be a bit of a struggle.”
Nonetheless, he added, the students’ achievement in Kuala Lumpur is a source of pride for LIPI and showcases the high level of creativity exhibited by the country’s young people.
“LIPI believes that Indonesian youths have it in them to succeed,” he said.
Over the weekend, a group of Indonesian students won awards at another science competition — this time the Asian Physics Olympiad in Bogor.
Two members from the home delegation won gold medals, including Himawan Wicaksono Winarto, who was also crowned overall winner of the competition, the best male participant, and winner of the experimental category. He received a mention on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s official Twitter feed.
The other gold medalist, Josephine Monica, was named the best female participant.
The team also won two silver medals, two bronze medals and two honorable mentions.
In his tweets on Sunday night about the team’s achievement, Yudhoyono said the youths had made the country proud.
“Once again,” he said, “I am proud that Indonesia is standing tall at an international arena because of our young generation.”