Dr Gen Williams shares what went down at Exeter’s first ever HealthTech hackathon!
Hackathon: A Hackathon (Hacking Marathon) is an event where a multidisciplinary team collaborate for an intense period of time on a specific project; the goal is to create something useable and tangible.
Applied research and a multidisciplinary approaches to science are at the heart of contemporary research practice. However, within our degree programs we often provide our students with a narrow view of science related to their own undergraduate discipline. In addition, the time and resources available to give students a chance to use knowledge to address real world problems is limited. The HealthTech Hackathon provided a structured yet dynamic opportunity for students from many disciplines to work together to address a real world health problem.
The HealthTech Hackathon ran between 29th-31st March 2019 and was based on the Innovation Centre. Supported by skilled representatives from IBM and Geant, 18 undergraduate and postgraduate students from computer science, sport and health science, physics, psychology, arts and humanities, business, geography, and mathematics formed three teams to design tech solutions for better healthcare.
The format of the hackathon was that of a framework that facilitated ideation, planning, problem solving, learning, prototyping and development. An ice breaker, the marshmallow challenge set the scene for the weekend! Guests included a member of our Ageing society, who talked about the reality of being 92 years old, and performed a rap “growing old is sh**” (excuse the profanity!). While jovial, it supported engaged hacking in line with needs from populations we want to help.
Emily Davies, part of the ThinkTryDo team, provided a session on Ideation and product development before the teams were left to start planning and designing. At the half way point all teams presented their ideas, progress and challenges. Here, teams were encouraged to receive feedback from other hackers and academics to inform their work towards the final day.
Finally, after a lot of hard work, teams created the following tech prototypes:
- A ‘smart scooter’ using computer vision to make driving a mobility scooter safer;
- A ‘smart events calendar’ which mined data from the web to automatically update a low-tech interface to facilitate social interaction for isolated individuals (photo below);
- A ‘student support chat bot’ using voice recognition to provide the tailored support to students having mental health problems.
Through collaboratively developing a solution to a real world health problem with a multidisciplinary team, the HealthTech Hackathon provided a platform for an enhanced learning, and scientific, cultural and applied student experience.
Funded by the Education Incubator, we are evaluating the hard and soft skills and the experiences gained by the participants during the hackathon, and developing a Hackathon ‘How-to’ Guide. We look forward to presenting these results!