Smartphones for the Blind and More Awesome Inventions from Philly Hackathon

See what the techies created in 36 hours at the Wells Fargo Center this weekend.

Fun with virtual reality. (Photo by Rebecca Abboud)

Fun with virtual reality. (Photo by Rebecca Abboud)

Forget the Flyers and Sixers, the techies took over the Wells Fargo Center this weekend for PennApps XII — billed as the largest collegiate hacakthon in the United States.

The event drew approximately 2,000 people from all over the world from Sept. 4-6, competing for more than $30,000 in prizes. Student teams had just 36 hours to build innovative software and hardware products. A select few were chosen to demo their innovations on Sunday at 10 a.m. (Sleeping during the weekend was optional.)

The judging panel consisted of accomplished software and hardware engineers from established tech companies like Google, Blackstone, Square and WillowTree

Here are some of the winners and what they invented:

FifthSense: Grand Prize – First Place

The Hack: FifthSense helps the visually impaired use smartphones with a six-button system featuring a braille input/output system. Buttons are used to send and receive messages in braille and feature motors that vibrate in braille patterns. It works with an Android app via Bluetooth. Here’s more from the FifthSense team (Edward Ahn, Cyrus Tabrizi, Rajat Mehndiratta and Vasu Agrawal: “The app also contains voice capabilities for people to speak queries instead of manually typing braille patterns in. The need for a walking cane is also eliminated through the addition of a distance sensor on the device, which alerts the person through vibrations if something is too close and possibly hazardous to a visually impaired person.”

Prize: Oculus Rift, Apple Watch Sport, Android Wear, XBOX One/PS4, a trip to Facebook HQ for the World Hackathon Finals.

Other awards: (Also won Best Hardware Hack Best AlphaLab Gear Hardware Hack)

Gaitorade: Main Prize – Second Place

The Hack: Gaitorade analyzes how a person places his or her foot while standing and walking. (Their “gait,” get it?) By mapping the pressure points of the sole of a person’s foot, Gaitorade can help detect the presence of Parkinson’s Disease where the legs of patient are effected. Here’s more from the inventors (Paril JainVidur Bhatnagar and Rishab Gupta): “This product has infinite scopes open ahead. The future tasks include learning algorithms for detection of detailed foot placements and walk patterns, auto-detection of few of the common diseases/issues, and usage of on board IMU for various fitness tracking tasks.”

Prize: Oculus Rift, Apple Watch Sport, Android Wear, XBOX One/PS4, and Fitbits for each team member.

 SemQueryMain Prize – Third Place

The Hack: SemQuery is a semantic code search engine for querying codebases using structure and semantics instead of conventional text. Here’s more from inventors August TrollbäckMary KarroqeBenjamin Spiegel and Kevin Faust: “By indexing codebases using comprehensive parsing of source files, SemQuery enables users to construct more efficient, accurate, and language-agnostic queries than textual or regex-based search can offer.”

Prize: Oculus Rift, Apple Watch Sport, Android Wear and XBOX One/PS4.

Digital Coffee: Best Use of Health Dataset or Health Device

The Hack: DigitalCoffee is a pair of glasses that wake you up when you doze off. The glasses vibrate when your eyes close for too long, and also causes your Pebble watch to vibrate. It works with an Android phone. DigitalCoffee has sensors that detect eye movement, blink frequency and duration. There is also a tilt sensor to detect head motion. From the inventors (Jeffrey Zhao and Cyrus Roshan): “The vibration motors trigger as long as the sensors detect signs of sleeping. The blink information is forwarded to the phone app for analytics; one can see when he/she is most sleepy. Lastly, the pebble app displays raw values and alerts you via vibration/notification.”

Prize: Jawbone Activity Trackers for each team member.

Kenko: Best Cloud Based Mobile App

The Hack: Kenko allows users to snap a photo of food with a smartphone and get health information. From inventors Kevin Frans and Gautam Mittal: “Take a picture of any edible item, regardless of whether it is packaged or not, and receive and track nutritional data. Using image recognition, Kenko allows you to track your daily intake of various nutrients including calories, sodium, cholesterol, etc. The application also has Apple Health Kit integration, allowing the app to store your health info in a centralized location. In addition, when you scan a food item, you also have the option of ordering more of that food item from a local restaurant.”

Prize: Bose speakers for each team member.