Baltimore’s First Abilities Hackathon

 

At times, I have found myself taking for granted the simple things in life: being able to walk side by side amongst others, the ability to hold and feel objects, the ability to communicate through speech; not everyone has been granted these abilities, and for some, these abilities have been taken away.

“A child is only as disabled as their environment and the beliefs of the people around them.” – Bala Pillai DPT, PCS

The Abilities Hackathon presented itself as an amazing opportunity for the Baltimore community to closely reflect on the things we take for granted on a daily basis. The event helped unite the community towards helping those with impacted abilities all across Maryland. Teams could participate in any one of the following four tracks:

  • Transportation/Mobility
  • Open Software/Hardware
  • Entertainment/Leisure
  • Wearables

On April 22nd, the Abilities Hackathon brought together over fifty Developers, Makers, and Designers in the quest to find solutions to common problems that those with disabilities face in every day life.

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Over 15 mentors were available on site throughout the weekend in the form of Tech Mentors, as well as Physical and Occupation Therapists to help guide participants in their valiant quest to help their community over the three day event.

At the end of the event, four teams were rewarded greatly for their efforts; thanks to the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology, we were able to present to teams over $9,000 worth of prizes during the weekend.

Here is a recap of what winners in each of the categories designed over the weekend.

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Open Software/Hardware: Tuber
Jake Tunney, Luke Samuels, and Michael Petr found that older adults and people without wifi have limited access to social and health resources. Transportation is also a major factor with accessing these resources. Tuber is an app that allows users to make a phone call to request the highly reliable Uber service for quick, affordable rides.

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What’s next for Tuber?: The creators of Tuber plan on enhancing the quality of voice transcription, and adding confirmation calls to assure users that an Uber is on the way.

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Wearables: eySonos
Max Corbin’s original inspiration for his project came from his aunt with degrading vision. This problem led to a simple question: if we can have cars auto-navigate, why can’t we perform a similar function to help the blind navigate? If we can, is it possible to do it cheaply?

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By combining 3D modeling, circuit building, programming, and getting something working in the short time required, Max Corbin was able to come up with eySonos. eySonos features a scanning array of ultrasound sensors to provide acoustic feedback from what is seen in the environment.

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What’s next for eySonos: 1) Continue to explore options for providing queues to a user. 2) Collect data and see if detection, tracking, and machine learning can be used to classify targets in the environment.

 

Transportation/Mobility: Backpack Access
People in wheelchairs carry lots of gadgets for their everyday needs. They often carry a backpack on the handles of their chair, but struggle to access it. Backpack Access highlights a simple track system with pulleys that allow the user to slide the bag from the back of their chair to the side without needing to reach around. Personal preferences for wheelchair products are highly varied based on ability.

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What’s next for Backpack Access:Developing the extruded rail system with improved pulleys. The creators then plan on making a panier style bag made to work most seamlessly with our system based on the needs of our users in wheelchairs.

 

Leisure/Entertainment: Disaster 512Z
Disaster 512Z (pronounced five twelve z) is a game aimed towards the blind/visually impaired community. With a pair of earbuds and phone in hand, you play as a space officer who has crash landed in the pressure chamber of an abandoned space facility. There is no power, so everything is dark. In fact, you don’t even look at your phone screen throughout the entire game, because there is nothing to see. You hold your phone in your hand and it acts as a device to control the space suit your character is wearing. Instead of walking, the character boosts along (with corresponding sound effects!) when you tilt your phone.

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What’s next for Disaster 512Z: Adding a menu system, most sound effects, more story, and more levels.

 

Overall, the event was a great success. Understandably, it’s quite difficult to brainstorm a project idea that will have lasting effects on an individual’s life, let alone make a fully functioning life-changing prototype in two and a half-days. This is why all eleven teams from the Abilities Hackathon have been invited to continue working on their projects and compete for $6,000 in prizes at the May 25th Showcase. Teams will have had a full month to refine and iterate upon projects presented during the event.

For more information about the Abilities Hackathon Showcase and to get your tickets, visit the Eventbrite page.

Thank you to all that were able to attend the Hackathon on April 22nd; hackers and mentors alike. The event was a great success and we are super excited about the Showcase on May 25th as it begins to come to fruition.

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Also, a big thanks to all of our sponsors who helped support us in our mission to make the world more accessible. You all rock.

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