IEEE SIGHT Southern Alberta Held a 72-Hour Make-A-Thon for Assistive Tech

Cutting edge technology and innovation begins with devoted people, simple ideas and noble purpose. Because some people will need a solution to make their daily life better, IEEE SIGHT Southern Alberta Section is partnering with Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM) makers movement for the second year to develop solutions for people with special needs.

This summer, Tikkun Olam Makers: Calgary held a 72-hour Make-A-Thon competition — an entire weekend of planning, collaborating and prototyping.

Diana Dang, an electrical engineering student in the University of Calgary and Vice-Chair of the IEEE UCalgary Student branch WIE affinity, participated in the event this year.

‘’Personally, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with an individual diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS),” Diana said. “Due to ALS, he has very limited motor function in his arms and hands. His objective was to build a neck-brace that he can put on and take off my himself. We designed and built the hands-free neck brace using steel tubing and wrapped it in foam for comfort. The brace was mounted on a wall piece using magnets, it had a rotating hinge on the right side and was latched together with magnets on the left side. Now, he has been able to regain independence when using his neck brace everyday.’’

For this edition of TOM, we partnered with Makers Making Change and the Neil Squire Society and we hosted a hardware building activity where we assembled a “LipSync” device for individuals who could not move their arms to use smartphones, tablets or computers with a mouth operated joy stick and a sip and puff mechanism.

In that regard, Diana said, ‘’being able to see how elements like wires, soldering and microcontrollers can be used to make a huge difference in someone’s life strengthened by passion for electrical engineering. To make it more impactful all the LipSync devices were distributed within Calgary and its surrounding areas, for residents at the Foothills Hospital, the CareWest facility and Alberta’s Children’s Hospital. I find events like this amazing because students and professionals can take their knowledge outside of the classroom walls and enable them to make a difference instantly.’’

Some prototypes built during TOM are the first of their kind, and will continue to make a difference every single day, but makers who participated in this event not only built devices, they built friendships and strengthened their belonging to the community. It may have been an event that was 72 hours long, but it did not end there. I believe every individual who participated in the 2017 TOM maker competition will start a lifelong stride towards assistive technology.

Anis Ben Arfi interviewed Diana Dang

Learn more about lipSync