Jordan's helping change lives through technology

A close call inspired ex-Baulkham Hills North Public student Dr Jordan Nguyen to help improve the lives of others. Pascal Adolphe reports.

A man posing with students in front of a painted wall. A man posing with students in front of a painted wall.
Image: Dr Jordan Nguyen receives a rockstar welcome from students at Baulkham Hills North Public School.

A dive into a swimming pool that went wrong had life changing consequences for renowned biomedical engineer, inventor and author, Dr Jordan Ngyuen.

Fortunately, the Baulkham Hills North Public and Normanhurst Boys High alumnus was not confined to a wheelchair like many others.

“I almost broke my neck and I found myself on the bottom of the pool and then flat on my back for a day and a half,” he said.

The lucky escape inspired Dr Nguyen on a career path that has enabled him to pioneer futuristic, inclusive and empowering technologies to improve the lives of people with disability, including a mind-controlled wheelchair.

Through his Psykinetic social enterprise, he and his team have designed numerous virtual and augmented reality applications.

Among his creations are an instrument that enabled a friend with cerebral palsy to perform live music and another allowing somebody to drive a car, all using eye movements and blinks.

Dr Nguyen said before his accident, he considered dropping out of engineering at university to move into psychology, despite already having built his first robot.

“I was drawn into something that would allow me to work with people and I thought maybe technology was not it,” he said.

“I was finding it very hard, the mathematics, the physics. I was loving building robots but didn’t have a purpose.”

Meeting people with severe disabilities, such as locked-in syndrome and cerebral palsy, gave him the purpose he had been missing, and in 2011 led to his invention of the first wheelchair ‘controlled by thoughts’.

“One in five Australians has some form of disability and one in 16 has severe or profound disability always requiring help with communication and mobility,” he said.

A man with a robot. A man with a robot.
Image: Dr Nguyen and his friendly companion robot, Koobo.

Dr Nguyen is a regular visitor to his old primary school, where he is also the patron of the school’s Innovation Centre that bears his name.

He always receives rock star treatment from the students and once turned up in a DeLorean – the car made famous by the Back to the Future film franchise.

Dr Nguyen returned to Baulkham Hills Public during Science Week (12-20 August) to inspire students to follow in his footsteps and take up careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths).

He also showcased his latest robot, Koobo, which was originally designed to help him manage signings of his book, A Human’s Guide to the Future.

Koobo eventually became a great companion for Dr Nguyen’s grandmother, who spent a significant amount of time in hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Technology is not there to replace people,” Dr Nguyen told the students.

“Our friendships and families are so important, but sometimes we can create things that will make the world a better place when there wasn’t a solution there before.”

When he left university in 2012, Dr Nguyen had a phrase engraved on a then new iPod, ‘one life exists to improve many’. The phrase has since become his mantra.

“I knew it would take persistence but what I wanted to do with my one life is to improve as many other lives as possible, because I realised this was giving me a level of purpose I never had before,” he said.

“There is nothing as good as the feeling of knowing that you make a difference in the lives of people around you, and the world around you, every day.

“That’s what we want to teach kids. That’s what the Baulkham Hills North Public School Innovation Centre is for. Allow them to realise that it comes from within. Once you are able to tell yourself that, anything is possible.”

A man in front of a painted wall. A man in front of a painted wall.
Image: Dr Nguyen is a regular visitor to his old school, where he is also the patron of the school’s Innovation Centre that bears his name.
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