The annual HackaHealth event taking place this weekend 9-11 October will bring together experts in the field to create mechanisms to help people with disabilities.
This weekend, 70 engineers and tech experts will meet at the Campus Biotech in Geneva for 48 hours of collaboration, creation, and very little sleep.
The aim? To help people with disabilities find solutions to the challenges they face in their daily lives.
The annual HackaHealth event brings together people with a passion for health and medical technology with individuals who are determined to overcome obstacles they face, from restricted movement to difficulties communicating.
Where did the idea come from? Three years ago, four engineers put their heads together and decided to create an organisation dedicated to helping people with disabilities. They felt that not enough was being done to develop technology and mechanisms that would improve people's quality of life, and knew that there would be plenty of experts, students and professionals in the Geneva community who would be willing to do something about it.
The idea for HackaHealth was born. Every year, participants, or ‘challengers’, approach the HackaHealth team with projects they would like them to work on over the event.
Past projects have included a prototype to allow Emma, a girl who has little control of her hands, to be able to draw and use a keyboard, and a rain protection mechanism to keep Marie Christine, who has rheumatoid arthritis, dry when she's outside in her wheelchair.
After brainstorming in the run-up to the event, the HackaHealth team and volunteers from the Geneva community get together with the challengers to bring the projects to life. Prototypes are built, rebuilt, tested and improved over an intense 48 hours.
“Having the hackathon structure brings lots of good energy,” says Arnaud Desvachez, one of the co-founders of HackaHealth. “We see lots of people who are highly skilled who attend because it's a fun two days where you work day and night.”
Who’s involved? The majority of the ‘hackers’ - volunteers who work on the projects - are master’s or PhD students from the nearby University of Geneva or École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EFPL), or professional engineers from Campus Biotech and elsewhere.
“We are really lucky to have this pool of highly skilled people who are devoted to working on our topics,” says Desvachez.
The challengers come from all over Geneva. This year, Emma will be returning to HackaHealth hoping to make improvements to her prototype. Another participant is Liam, who has an agenesis on his right hand and wants the hackers to create a prosthesis that will help him hold a ski pole or the handlebars on his bike.
“It's really an interaction between the challengers, the team and the hackers,” says Desvachez. “It's really inclusive in the sense that the challenger has a role in the team that is as important as a designer or engineer…[they’re] actively involved in the development and [their] role is as important as any other in the team.”
Watch this space for an update on what the hackers and challenges achieve this weekend.