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Hacking for good: the Hackaday Assistive Technology Prize winners in their own words

In July, e-Access Bulletin reported on the Hackaday Prize, a competition that asks designers, developers and hardware enthusiasts to “build something that matters” – something that can help people or change the world for the better.

Of particular interest for readers of the Bulletin is the Assistive Technology category. Earlier this month, 20 winning assistive technology projects were selected from hundreds of entries.

Each received a cash prize of 1,000 US Dollars and moved to the final round of the competition, where five projects from across all categories will be chosen November 5. These are awarded larger cash prizes, including the overall competition winner, who receives $150,000 and a residency in a design lab to further develop their project.

As you might imagine, the winning entries from the assistive technology category were a fascinating and accomplished list, showcasing all kinds of innovative accessibility ideas. e-Access Bulletin contacted a selection of the winners and asked them to explain more about their projects, which we’ve detailed below.

Winning project 1: Facade, tactile interfaces to appliances. Designed by Anhong Guo.

Anhong Guo: “Most common appliances have flat touchpads, making them inaccessible for blind people. Facade is a crowdsourced fabrication pipeline to generate 3D printed tactile interfaces for blind people.

“Assisted by the Facade iOS app, blind users capture a photo of an inaccessible interface, which is sent to crowd workers, who label and describe it. This is used to generate a 3D model for a layer of tactile buttons that fit over the controls.

“Blind people generally label appliances with Braille stickers, but doing so requires sighted assistance. Our solution is an end-to-end pipeline that can help blind people independently make appliance interfaces accessible.

“I’m glad that this technology is being acknowledged by others, and I’ll work hard to put it into the hands of blind people.”

Winning project 2: BOSI, a Bluetooth open-source switch interface. Designed by Joshua Chung.

Joshua Chung: “I believe that using computers and mobile devices is going to be one of the most frequent daily activities in our life, especially for students with disabilities, and this should not be a limitation to them. So, I’ve been looking for cheap, easy solutions that high school students can build at home or school. The BOSI was designed to be a 3D-printable computer access device for computers and mobile devices. People who have difficulties using traditional physical input devices – like a keyboard, mouse or touch-screen – may benefit from it.

“The BOSI costs much less than commercial switch interfaces and is easy to make. Also, as BOSI is open-sourced, people with disabilities can modify and customise it for their individual needs.

“Computer use is going to be a crucial activity in our life and many people are still struggling with it. I hope this project brings in more people to face challenges that able-bodied people don’t have now, but may encounter one day.”

Winning project 3: Shakelet, a wireless vibrating wristband to provide alerts to hearing impaired people. Designed by Alex Hunt.

Alex Hunt: “The inspiration came from a friend who has hearing difficulties. I wanted to make something that would allow her to interact with standard consumer technology without requiring expensive, specialised equipment.

“The Shakelet consists of a sensor and a receiver. The sensor is placed on whatever the user wishes to monitor, such as a doorbell or fire alarm. When that item goes off, a signal is sent to the receiver, notifying the user through a flashing light and vibrating motor. The project is unique because there is no specialist equipment required, and it has a very low component cost.”

“Being a Hackaday winner was fantastic and surprising. The standard of entries was very high and I was amazed to have been chosen. The next stage is to shrink the sensor to a size that can be integrated into a wristband. I would also like to add a Wi-Fi interface.”

Winning project 4: MOLBED, a modular low cost Braille electronic display. Designed by Marin Davide.

Marin Davide: “I decided to develop an affordable alternative to current (expensive) refreshable Braille displays. It had to be low cost and easy to manufacture, if possible using commercial parts. I’m in touch with associations for people with impaired vision, and their help is important to design a product that is really useful.

“This project is unique because I used a new idea (a magnetic core with magnetic retaining on each end) that has never been used in a Braille display. It has a working prototype already, and the entire project is open-source, as I decided not to patent it, so that it is available for anyone to make.

“Here in Italy, it is difficult to get funds for this kind of project, so winning prize money gives this project the opportunity to be developed fully – having test units made, optimised, tested by users, and then produced in a first batch.”

Winning project 5: Pallette, an open-source ‘tongue computer interface’. Designed by Dan Levine, Joanna Zhang, Oliver Hoffman, Rohit Jain, and Shawn Bramson.

Dan Levine: “We felt like the technology of today is functional, but often doesn’t consider appearance or obtrusiveness of a device. Tongue-based interaction, and the idea of discreet assistive technologies, can meaningfully help out.

“Hidden from view, Pallette enables people with spinal cord injuries and other mobility impairments to control technology using their tongue. It uses infrared sensors to track tongue motion and a microphone to detect tongue taps. It currently enables individuals to control computers, Android tablets, and Android phones as a Bluetooth mouse.

“The tongue interface has been explored before, but we’ve given it some new abilities and form. Pallette doesn’t require any buttons, meaning the tongue doesn’t get tired. It’s open-source and we have a website detailing how to make it – this is definitely a first for tongue interfaces. As far as we know, there are no commercial or other open-source tongue interfaces that exist today.

“We’re humbled and proud to have won. We’ve been working on Pallette for the last one-and-a-half years, and we really want to see it thrive and reach the people it’s meant for. It feels like a good beginning as we work to kick-start this community.”

Winning project 6: TNS B1i, an accessible prosthetic hand. Designed by Giovanni Leal and Jenny Pabon.

Giovanni Leal: “The hand opens and closes, makes gestures and lasts one week with a specific battery. It’s designed for people with transradial upper limb amputation. Just to change one person’s life would mean the world to us.

“Everybody is fixated on the fact that the hand only has four fingers – and we love it! We were worried about people’s reaction to it, but having four fingers on the hand really makes sense. Also, we built our own 3D printed microlinear actuators, making us independent from suppliers.

“We’re humbled to be a winner. The community [around the competition] is amazing. They praise you, give you advice and help you become a better maker.

“The goal is for the hand to be commercially available in December. We have a patent going on, but if anyone wants to make the hand to help another person, feel free and call us so we can see it afterwards and learn from your kindness.”

Read about other winners of the Hackaday Assistive Technology Prize:
http://eab.li/37 .

Find out more at the Hackaday Prize website:
http://eab.li/38 .

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