Ligia beamed with tears rolling down her face, “this is perfect”. For the first time in the 8 years since she was injured, Ligia Andrade was applying makeup by herself.
Ms. Andrade is one of 11 people living with a disability who attended this weekend’s 48-hour Makeathon at Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation at UC Berkeley.
Until this weekend, she would apply her makeup by asking a caretaker or one of her sons to hold and position her brushes, pencils, and lipsticks while she would move her face and apply her own makeup flawlessly. However, this system would slow down her morning routine. The “Makeup Applicator” holds all her applicators so she is independent to put on her makeup.
TOM:Berkeley is the newest TOM:Tikkun Olam Makers community - a global movement launched in Israel in 2014 of makers, designers, developers, and innovators who seek to solve challenges faced by people living with disabilities worldwide. The community is being launched alongside three other college campuses and one high school, all with the support of the Jim Joseph Foundation.
“As a mechanical engineering student and quadriplegic due to Spinal Cord Injury, I am very excited to bring a TOM Community to UC Berkeley and engage my peers in an impactful way. I see so much skill and potential amongst my fellow students and see so many activities that my friends and I in the disability community struggle with or simply cannot do because no functional or affordable solution exists.” shared TOM:Berkeley Organizer, Drew McPherson, “By bringing these communities together many of these challenges can be addressed with local community members and through TOM the impact can be amplified to reach communities around the world. ”
With access to the state of the art workshops with 3D printers, laser cutters, water jet cutters, and electronics fabrication, the eleven teams had 48 hours to create working prototypes for their challenges.
Malia is 11 years old and has severe Cerebral Palsy, which often makes it difficult for people to understand her when she speaks. In school, Malia uses an eye-gaze tracking device to communicate, but the solution is inaccurate, impersonal, and limits her ability to chat with her friends. To help Malia communicate more accurately and more fully, the speech translator team developed software to learn from and adapt to her voice, understand what she is saying, and translate it to others around her. The team, made up of a combination of Berkeley students and Googlers, developed an algorithm that takes in samples of Malia’s voice and trains itself to pick up on the nuances of her speech.
Alvaro, an MBA student at the Haas School of Business, is quadriplegic with limited motion in his shoulders. He enjoys hand cycling, but current gear shifting mechanisms rely heavily on wrist and grip strength. For Alvaro, this means going for a ride requires a second cyclist to ride alongside him who can reach over and shift the gears for him. The auto shift team, steeped in mechanical engineering experience, developed a gear shift solution using his elbows. The next steps in development for the team include a voice activated solution.
Bliss is a mom to three kids, a full-time doctor and is Hemipalegic. When Bliss takes her children out grocery shopping in San Francisco, she finds it difficult to manage both her kids and groceries while navigating city streets in her wheelchair. Looking for solutions in the past, Bliss was turned off by bulky devices that require permanent attachment to her chair – Bliss requires a solution that can be easily added and removed when needed.
The grocery helper team – all brothers of the professional engineering fraternity Theta Tau – developed a solution with only one permanent component – a small, unintrusive metal plate mounted to the back of Bliss’ chair. A swinging basket can be easily added and removed from the plate, providing Bliss a place to place her groceries that can easily be swung to the back of the chair while she carries her kids home on her lap.
For children with autism, communication in school can be a difficult task. Many kids rely on a physical letterboard, a laminated sheet of paper on which students can point out letters that are then relayed by an aide. Not only is the process slow, it severely limits the autonomy of autistic students and relies heavily on the assistance of an aide.
To help facilitate more autonomy in the classroom, the autism letterboard team developed a digitized touchscreen letterboard powered by a Raspberry Pi. Rather than pointing out a letter to an aide, the digital letterboard allows students to touch letters that are then recorded instantly by the computer, both speeding up the process of communication and reducing the reliance on aides in the classroom.
Owen, a Berkeley-based filmmaker and self-taught engineer, can only interface with technology when using his wheelchair. He uses a customized joystick attached to his wheelchair and controlled by his chin. Because Owen spends a lot of time at home outside of his wheelchair, this quickly becomes limiting. But Owen, who developed his engineering prowess by developing solutions to challenges he found in his own life, doesn’t like to think small – in addition to a non-wheelchair-exclusive technology interface, Owen is also looking for ways to automate devices around his house through an app.
To tackle Owen’s multi-faceted challenge, the HouseAUTO team – Team Hada – split into multiple sub-teams throughout the weekend, working on developing everything from a mechanical arm to attach to Owen’s wheelchair, to connecting his joystick to a tablet interface, to setting up a server to control all of the peripheral devices, to hacking into Owen’s door to better connect it to his new home automation system.
Leg Bag Emptier
Rafe sustained a spinal cord injury while traveling through India 10 years ago. He uses a leg bag connected to a catheter. Current devices, Rafe explained, are unreliable and can be difficult to operate. If the mechanism breaks, as it does from time to time, Rafe – and other users – must send in the device to be repaired, leaving them without an autonomous solution for a week or longer. Some current devices are also unreliable in determining whether or not the leg bag is full. If the detector mechanism fails, urine can become backed up in the user’s bladder, potentially leading to serious health complications if not treated soon enough.
The challenge required the leg bag team to develop a solution that is easy, quick, reliable, and completely sanitary. Sensors on the bag controlled by an Arduino connect to Rafe’s iPhone, where he can use an app that keeps track of the last time the bas was emptied and how full it currently is.
Longtime Berkeley resident Bonnie considers herself to be somewhat of an outdoorsman. From her fondness for trails through California greenery to her work with the Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program, Bonnie loves to spend time outside.
Currently, Bonnie relies on a grabber arm to pick things from her wheelchair. Most of these grabbers rely heavily on wrist and grip strength, making them impossible for Bonnie to operate with one hand. Current devices also have difficulty picking up objects heavier than one pound, forcing Bonnie to rely on maneuvering a converted dustbin to lift heavy objects.
As a result of a spinal cord injury, Marcos, an architecture student at UC Berkeley, has no function in his hands, and relies on exoskeleton-type devices to grab objects. Current devices, the team explained, are bulky and can be unstable.
The tendon glove team developed a rigid glove that is easier to don and more stable than other solutions, and that provides Marcos with grip strength between his thumb and index finger he would otherwise not have. Unlike existing devices which are rigid and cumbersome, the team’s solution forms to the shape of Marcos’ hand for easier usability and more flexibility.
The highlights for the team included: writing with a pen, cutting a banana, and eating chips and salsa!
For people with limited to no arm and leg function, a robotic arm attached to a wheelchair can function as a backup working limb. Unfortunately, solutions currently on the market can cost upwards of $50,000, making them unrealistic for many people to purchase. Desktop arms exist and are often cheaper, but are weaker and have a limited range of motion.
Need-Knower Jade created the first prototype of JARL before the makeathon with Owen, the Need-Knower for HouseAUTO, and built off of that knowledge at TOM:Berkeley with the new JARL team. Unlike past prototypes which were non-functional skeletons, this JARL model is equipped with two degrees of freedom and a laser pointer at the end to make operation easier and more accurate. The JARL team’s minimum viable product is a robotic limb that can press elevator buttons, achieved through the two degrees of freedom.
When Jill’s parents travel, taking their toilet and shower chair with them is difficult – many models aren’t made to collapse, and must be disassembled and reassembled once they’ve reached their destination. Because they were not designed for portability, most are also very heavy and cumbersome, making travel even more difficult.
To facilitate easier, hassle-free travel, the travel commode team developed an inexpensive and lightweight commode that can be easily broken down into parts that fit into a standard backpack or carry-on bag. Once Jill’s parents have arrived at their destination, the device is easy to reassemble without needing a screwdriver or any tools besides a small hex wrench. The team’s device is also much less expensive than similar products on the market.
The solutions developed at the 48 Makeathon will help other people with disabilities around the world. “By creating a specific and extremely affordable solutions to a specific problem, and then making it globally available, every team can help tens of thousands of other users worldwide” explained Gidi Grinstein, president of the Reut Group, “supporting a global network of communities collectively working together to improve the lives of millions of people living with disabilities.”
“Jacob Institute was made for a Makeathon like this” shared George Anwar, a lecturer at UC Berkeley, “It is exciting to see the tradeoff between resources, limited time and what the person with disabilities wants to create a working solution. This event is so much greater than a grade and it teaches our students to put the person in need first. ”
TOM:Berkeley (berkeley.tomglobal.org) is a local community for student Makers, designers, developers and engineers working together with people with disabilities to develop technological solutions for everyday challenges. This event is co-organized by the student group EnableTech at UC Berkeley, who will provide support for projects to continue after the event.
By mobilizing TOM Communities worldwide, TOM:Tikkun Olam Makers (tomglobal.org) seeks to address neglected challenges and develop millions of affordable technological solutions for people with disabilities around the globe. Established in 2014, TOM is a strategic initiative of the Reut Group, a Tel Aviv-based innovative policy and strategy group creating and scaling models to ensure prosperity and resilience for Israel and the Jewish People while courageously pursuing a vision to positively impact the lives of 250 Million people in a decade.