Highlights from the TOM Bay Area Makeathon

This past weekend, Medgadget was invited to the TOM Bay Area Makeathon in San Francisco. Like most makeathons/hackathons, the event was 72 straight hours of designing and tinkering. However, this event was focused specifically on creating affordable assistive technologies for the needs of people with disabilities.

TOM (Tikkun Olam Makers, a Hebrew phrase which means “healing the world”) started with four makers from Israel who had a vision of mobilizing the Maker movement to solve many of the world’s problems. Together with support from Google.org, MakerBot, and other corporate sponsors, TOM has been able to put on four makeathon events with many successful projects (the Bay Area event is their first in the U.S.).

Each of the 18 participating teams from around the world is paired with a “need-knower”, a person with a disability who has an idea on how their life, and the lives of others, can be improved with technology. With 3D printers, Google Glass, and an unlimited supply of coffee at their disposal, the teams work non-stop through the weekend to hopefully make their need-knower’s dream a reality. We were able to chat with a few of the teams and their need-knowers around the halfway point of the event. Here are some notable highlights:

Smart Seat: Patients who are confined to a wheelchair risk developing pressure sores if they stay in one position for too long without moving. Smart Seat (or “Smart Ass” according to one team member) is a cushion containing pressure sensors to alert the user if he or she has been sitting in the same position for too long. Additionally, the cushion will contain actuators to help the person shift their weight, move around, or completely lift them off the chair for a short period of time. The photo shows a 3D printed prototype of the unit that will eventually house the sensors and actuators.

iEat: Team iEat is developing a robotic arm containing spoons to help guide food to the mouths of patients who have decreased upper limb functionality. Inspired by the mechanism of a typical balanced-arm lamp, the iEat evolved to a Lego Technic concept and then to a small-scale electronic prototype.

Team Crush: Patients with gastronomy tubes usually require medicine administered directly through the g-tube itself. However, this medicine is often in pill form, which means it must be ground into powder and diluted with water. Currently, the common practice is to crush the pill with a mortar and pestle, transfer the powder to another container, dilute it, then transfer it to a g-tube syringe. A significant quantity of medicine is wasted with this process. Team Crush’s solution is a combination mortar and pestle and g-tube syringe. A pill is placed into the mortar (top red part in the photo). The smaller end of the pestle grinds the pill into powder, and water is added directly to the mortar. The pestle is flipped over, and the wider end becomes a plunger that is inserted into the mortar. The entire unit acts as a g-tube syringe, with the now liquid medicine being dispensed through the bottom of the pestle directly into the g-tube. Neat.

Life Chair: Life Chair will be the wheelchair for the 20th century. A standard wheelchair can be easily and affordably upgraded with additional gears, a motor, and electronics to become an electric chair controlled by your smartphone. During our visit to team Life Chair, they were discussing implementing proximity sensors, cameras, GPS, and other technologies to make Life Chair even smarter.

We were hugely impressed with all the projects and wish all the teams the best of luck as they continue to develop their solutions!