LA CEIBA, Honduras – Growing up, video games were a big part of Luis Fernando Cruz’s life.
“They motivated me to buy books about electronics,” Cruz, 19, said. “From that time on, instead of playing soccer with my friends at recess, I sat and read.”
Cruz’s decision, which was mocked by some of his classmates, has certainly paid off, as his invention of the Eyeboard, a software program writing system, led to his becoming the first Honduran to be named one of the world’s top 25 most powerful and influential young people by global civic organization Youth Service America (YSA).
“I was not interested in the opinion of my classmates because I had faith in what I was doing,” said Cruz, who began his research in October 2010 and had a finished product in March 2011.
Cruz’s Eyboard is a computer-based biomedical system that detects eye movements through electrodes and directs the cursor on the screen to form words, making it easier for the disabled, especially paraplegics and quadriplegics, to communicate.
A basic Eyeboard system can be downloaded at no charge, but a more advanced, do-it-yourself kit sells for $2,853 lempiras (US$150) and can be purchased through Intelsath, the company that manages his products. Similar communication systems cost $286,200 to $381,600 lempiras (US$15,000 to US$20,000).
But the Eyeboard isn’t Cruz’s only invention, as he created a wireless joystick in 2007 that’s compatible with all video game systems with wireless capacity. He presented the joystick to his science class, but it wasn’t selected to be displayed at the state fair.
The rejection, however, didn’t stop him from pursuing his ideas.
Since 2007, he’s developed, among others, a Morse decoder that interprets and translates sounds into words, a software program to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius and a movement-controlled mechanism to control a lawn sprinkler through a computer, all of which can be purchased through Intelsath.
Cruz, a native of La Ceiba, a Caribbean port city 405 kilometers (252 miles) north of Tegucigalpa, said inventing is in his DNA. His grandfather, Humberto Cruz, was a radio technician who studied electronics at Hemphill College’s correspondence distance-learning program because his dream was to become an electrical engineer.
“My interests in inventions began in my childhood, when I would play with radio parts in my grandfather’s studio,” he said.
Cruz also seeks the advice of his father, Luis Fernando Cruz, Sr., who “emphasizes that nothing in life is by chance.”
“The events surrounding Luis Fernando’s life are enough to write a book about,” Cruz Sr., a 45-year-old electrical engineer, said. “I think it would have been easier to win the lottery than to accomplish all that we have accomplished.”
Cruz’s mother, María del Carmen Rodríguez, said her son’s talent is a gift from God.
“In high school, he came home one day complaining because math class was too easy,” Rodríguez, a 42-year-old psychologist, said.
Cruz has taught his only brother, 12-year-old Carlos Daniel, it’s possible to succeed in Honduras, which is mired in violence and underdevelopment.
“I am proud of my brother Luis,” Carlos Daniel said. “He is my example of not only how to finish the race, but to be successful in the future, too.”
Cruz’s accomplishments have caught Honduran officials’ attention, said Ivette Castillo, assistant director of the Science and Research Competitiveness and Innovation Directorate of the Ministry of Planning and External Cooperation (SEPLAN).
“Luis Cruz is an innovator, a self-starter and a creative, great talent to be channeled to benefit not only his country but the world,” she said. “He is an exceptional young man.”
Honduras invests just 0.06% – about US$9.2 million – of the country’s gross domestic product (US$15.4 billion in 2010) in scientific research and innovation, according to SEPLAN.
“Many young people in Honduras are as talented as Luis Fernando and they need opportunities to channel their talent,” she said. “I tell young people who are interested in research that perseverance is the key to everything you wish to attain. Research is a vocation and the best way to succeed is to enjoy it and to seek opportunities.”
Cruz, who is working toward a degree in electrical engineering at the University of New Orleans in the United States, aspires to return to his hometown and start a technology company, where he will hire locals to improve development nationwide.
“I believe our country has what it takes to offer more opportunities for the talented youths who haven’t been discovered here yet,” he said. “I want to support the young people who believe in themselves and whose parents support them.”