Hack-a-thon at URI is first such event to tackle health and wellness challenges

Students, scientists, entrepreneurs and the public will compete at HealthHacks RI 2016

KINGSTON, R.I., October 6, 2016 — Students, scientists, entrepreneurs and the public will join together at the University of Rhode Island the weekend of Oct. 14-16 for HealthHacks RI 2016, the state’s first hack-a-thon to address society’s health and wellness challenges with creative, real-world solutions.

With assistance from mentors, small teams of “inventors” will have 48 hours to identify a problem related to aging, diet/nutrition and medical technology and brainstorm, design, build and pitch a practical solution, says Kunal Mankodiya, assistant professor of electrical, computer biomedical engineering and a key organizer of the event. The teams will showcase their work for a panel of judges and the public. Participants will compete for cash prizes, and the public will vote for its favorite solution.

Mankodiya describes a hack-a-thon as a social problem-solving event, organized around a theme, that fosters a spirit of entrepreneurship and collaboration. Such an event differs from a topic-specific conference in its focus on outcomes. “Each and every team will make something tangible,” he says. “The result will be something you can pick up and touch.” For example, teams can design a model of smart homes made using wooden boards with embedded sensors and wireless technology for helping elderly individuals to live more independently, he says.

URI’s Colleges of Engineering, Business and Health Sciences have come together to sponsor the hack-a-thon, produced through a partnership with the nonprofit Social Enterprise Greenhouse, a network of business and community leaders that supports social entrepreneurs and endeavors, and MedMates, a medical technology network group.

Electrical engineering graduate student Nick Constant, who is the lead student organizer and a driving force of the hack-a-thon, expects about 10-12 teams of up to five people to compete. Participants, who pay $20 each, will have access to micro-processors, sensors, motors, 3D printer and other materials as needed. Both fully formed teams and individuals who want to link up with others when they arrive are welcome. “The ultimate goal is to take an idea and make it better through collaboration,” Constant says. “This event takes those small embers and makes bigger flames.”

Participants need not be engineers, scientists or health professionals. In fact, success can hinge on including people with no expertise in the topic, who bring a fresh perspective and different skills, Mankodiya says. “We really want to reach out to the community,” he says. “As they design and build, the teams must consider the end-users. Otherwise, they might as well make a rocket to the Moon. We don’t want magical things here. We want practical, scale-able things.”

The event opens Friday night, Oct. 14., at URI’s Memorial Union, 40 Lower College Road, Kingston campus, when Dr. James V. McDonald of the Rhode Island Department of Health presents key health challenges in need of solutions. Participants will work all day Saturday on their projects. The Public is invited to the following Sunday afternoon events: Hackathon pitches and demos will start at 1pm on Sunday 10/16 in Pharmacy Building, 7 Greenhouse Rd., URI Kingston campus.  At 2pm, Dr. Wendy Nilsen, Program Director of Smart and Connected Health, National Science Foundation will deliver the keynote.

The hack-a-thon also includes a Smart Textile design-and-build workshop Sunday morning for middle and high-school students.

For more information or to participate visit the HealthHacks RI 2016 website https://healthhacks.ele.uri.edu./.