‘The Ray’ award is a life-time honour awarded every three years in memory of the late Ray Wijewardena, the foremost inventor produced by Sri Lanka, to help a recognized inventor commercialize his/her invention. ‘The Ray’ is presented to encourage ongoing innovation and enterprise in areas of public interest and continue Ray Wijewardena’s vision of innovation among all Sri Lankans. The Ray Award 2015 is organized by the Ray Wijewardena Charitable Trust (RWCT) in collaboration with the Sri Lanka Inventor’s Commission (SLIC). Speaking to the Daily Mirror the Chairman of RWCT, Professor Malik Ranasinghe spoke about ‘The Ray’, objectives of the event and future expectations.
What is the Ray Award?
We are organizing the ‘Ray Awards’ for the second time and it happens every three years. The main objective is to give recognition to an inventor who has won a presidential award for a product by means of giving him a hand to commercialize his/her product. An inventor always has the potential to innovate but it is difficult to bring a product for commercial use. We want someone to be like Ray one day. He was full of ideas and was rich enough to develop his ideas into something useful. So we have a leading commercial bank as our partner which helps us and the product commercially recognized. The 2012 Ray award winner invented a wave-less boat, which was actually not a new idea, but he developed a prototype which was more advanced than his lab model. This product was launched at the Bank premises and also at the banks Diyawanna Oya.
What benefits does the winner get once he/she wins ‘The Ray’?
They get recognition as well as a Rs. 1 million grant which would assist the winner in commercializing the product.
Who can apply for it?
Anybody who has won a presidential award by the SLIC can apply for ‘The Ray’. Last time we had ninety applicants but they were eventually shortlisted to five. We are pitching for the highest level in terms of inventions. So we look at products that highlight areas such as aeronautics, engineering, agriculture and environment.
How long have you been involved with the trust?
Ray was my Chancellor at the University of Moratuwa, and I was the Vice-Chancellor at the time. I anyway got to know him during the latter stages of my life. We started ‘Ray Awards’ during the year he passed away. It is not easy to organize this kind of an event and it is always done in line with the Bawa Awards.
Are there any products which were introduced to the market through ‘The Ray’?
The first product to win was the wave-less boat. Through ‘Ray Awards’ we try to demonstrate the prototype and put it for commercial use. The reality is that these inventions need more and more advancements before being introduced for commercial use. Innovation is not taking a product to the market.
How is a product selected?
It has to be the best idea that could be commercialized. The applicants have to fill a questionnaire and we add a few extra criteria. So we conduct interviews with the finalists and they have to demonstrate how they are going to put their products for commercial use. All finalists get a medal each.
What is the scope for these inventors in Sri Lanka?
Inventors have great ideas but they always live with a fear that someone would steal theirs. So once they invent something, they are given a patent to ensure that the product belongs to them. Getting a patent is also a long process. However, ideas have to be evolved in order to invent new things. Also these inventors don’t have much support to go further. There has to be a place where they can showcase their inventions. Hopefully one day we would be able to find someone like Ray.