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.


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.



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.


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.



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?


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.


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.


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.


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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3D Scanning Made Easy

If you have a Kinect, you have a 3D scanner
If you have a Kinect, you have a 3D scanner

The Xbox 360 Kinect is a great tech tool that can be hacked to function as a 3D Scanner. This scanner can be used by just about any computer with a supporting graphics card. For Windows users, you may need to download the associated NVIDIA drivers.


What You Will Need




Helpful Tips:

  • I would really recommend having a Kinect handle as it makes it easier to control and hold onto the Kinect. If you have access to a 3D printer, you can print the same one we use and recommend: Kinect Handle by tart2000 on Thingiverse.
  • There are also two different versions of Skanect to choose from, a paid and non-commercial free version. The free version offers basic functionality, while the paid version allows for commercial use as well as minor updates throughout the year.


How to Take a 3D Scan

Getting Kinected 

Ensure that your drivers and software are installed and that all are up to date. Once you have done so, connect the Kinect to your Computer and fire up Skanect. Your Kinect will have to be plugged in initially before you fire up Skanect in order for the program to recognize it.

You can tell if Skanect recognizes your Kinect if the Freenect Sensor in the right hand corner is green.

GettingKinected2 GettingKinected1

Modifying Settings

When taking a 3D scan, there are a couple different things that you want to ensure are being taken into account:

  1. Set your Bounding Box and scene. Keep in mind, though, that the larger the Bounding Box, the less detail your scan will have.
    • For regular busts of individuals, my go-to settings are a Bounding Box of 2.7 x 2.7 x 2.7 meters, with the Scene set to Body. This is about 8.9 feet cubed, and allows some room for error in my start, in case I start scanning too far away from the individual.ModifyingSettings1
  2. Under Prepare – > Settings, change your Recording Feedback from ‘None’ to CPU or GPU.
    • If GPU is not crossed out (as mine is), choose GPU. This will enhance your imaging when the mesh is reconstructed after the scan, and hopefully allow you to not lose any pieces of your mesh.ModifyingSettings2
  3. Now, go back to New, and press Start. It is now time to prep our Scan!


Prepping the Scan

Prepping a scan involves setting the distance at which you’re going to start, and also where you would like your individual to be at.

At DHF, we have a designated scanning area, where individuals stand at a specific point. At this point, no other objects are near the individual as to not interfere with the scan.



Things to Keep in Mind

Aim your Kinect at a central point of the individual
For full body scans, I generally start at the waist. This ensures that I am scanning straight, and not at a tilted angle. I tend to use the FPS readout at the bottom of the screen as the measure of the middle.

Be aware of the FPS
The FPS readout at the bottom will let you know if you’re going too fast or too slow. You generally want to be in between 18-24 FPS. Anything more or less may throw your Kinect out of focus, causing you to lose the current position. Float forwards and back, up and down at a steady pace for the best results.

Green is good, red is bad, sometimes!
Green means your object has been scanned at that area, whereas red indicates that area has not been picked up on. This more than likely is a depth issue… move back!

  • Below is an example of being too close to the individual.bad
  • Below is an example of being too far away from the individual.GoodExposure
  • The following is an example of a good exposure.Good
    • Sometimes I passed over areas twice to make sure all was taken in before I finally hit the stop button. You want to find the right balance of close, but not too far away. Slowly move forward and backward until you find that right balance.


Lights, Scanners, ACTION

Once you are fully prepped and ready, hit the Record button at the top left and your 3 second default delay will kick in.

The thumbs up is given, start your scans!

If you’re like me, your first initial scan is going to go awry. This may be due to a variety of things, but more than likely it’s because you were either moving too fast while scanning, or you were too close or too far from the individual you were scanning. Simply reposition, and try it again!



Finishing your Scan

Once your scan is finished, press the Record button again. Your scan may have some holes and look rough initially. Luckily, Skanect comes with some tools to clean this up.



First, let’s perform an offline reconstruction of the model. This will take only the frames that are deemed as good from the previous scan. This way, instead of having the live reconstruction as you did before, your CPU/GPU can do all of the hard work for you and reconstruct your model as perfectly as possible. You will do this under Reconstruct tab, going to Fusion and selecting CPU or GPU (GPU preferably if it is an option available). Set your Fidelity to the ‘Medium’ by default. If you have a computer with strong processing power, set your Fidelity to ‘High’. This will maximize the quality of your print.


Now, let’s make our object watertight. To do this, we will navigate to Process, and then click ‘Watertight’. Set ‘Smoothing’ to ‘Medium’ and press Run. I chose to remove colors. To do so, find Color in the left sidebar select ‘Remove Colors’.


Now your mesh is ready to be exported.


Exporting your Mesh

To export your mesh, under Share navigate to Export Model, select your file format.


Congrats, you have finished your very first 3D Scan!


Now that you have finished your Scan, you may still need to clean up your file. To do so, we will use MeshMixer. It is a free 3D Mesh editing application. Shawn has made a video that will show you how to clean up your Designs in MeshMixer so that you can 3D print your busts.


3D scanning is a very fun, involved activity. With a little bit of tinkering, you will be able to have your very own 3D figure.


If you run into any issues, feel free to send me an email at