Charlotte IoT Hosts Civic Hackathon to Enable Paraplegics

Posted on: Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

On Saturday April 8th, Charlotte IoT hosted a Civic Hackathon.

This hackathon was the result of months of planning, and it all started at a Charlotte IoT meeting, during one of Dan Thyer’s talks on Alexa. After his talk, Benjamin Gatti, a community STEM and Makerspace Leader, approached Thyer; he had the perfect application for this technology.

20 years ago, a high school student named Nick Browning—and a family friend of Gatti’s—was left quadriplegic after being a passenger in a car accident. Today, Browning is unable to move anything below his neck, which means, if he gets cold in the middle of the night, he must rely on his family to adjust his blanket. Together, Gatti, Thyer and several other technology leaders worked together to collaborate on a Civic Hackathon that would enable paraplegic friends, like Browning, and others to be more self-sufficient and to make their lives better. Carolyn Hewett from Logical Advantage project managed all of the activities planned for the event, and there were weekly planning meetings, which are continuing even now.

Last Saturday, all of their planning came to life, when Charlotte IoT met at Queens University for the Civic Hackathon to Enable Paraplegics with IoT. Participants traveled from as far as Raleigh, NC for the opportunity to participate. Also in attendance was Sean, a Charlottean and paraplegic from Nevins, which is an organization dedicated to helping adults with disabilities. Sean came to the event to be a sounding board for ideas, as well as to provide the necessary wheelchair measurements.

“The most rewarding part of the day was hearing a conversation with Sean and one of the volunteers,” recalls Thyer. “Sean was so thrilled to be one of the first paraplegics to get this technology and was most excited that he could help us work out the issues so that this technology could help others. Sean said, ‘You mean I can help others,’ with the biggest smile on his face!”

During the hackathon, eight teams built projects around IoT technology, including cloud services. Each team had a tech lead to lead their team. One of the projects is a connected wheelchair, which uses the Alexa voice assistant to enable controls for a fan and heated jacket. 3D printing was also used to print mounts, which will be used to attach the devices to the wheelchair. Another team worked on a wearable project, which posts the temperature in the cloud of the individual while they sleep; this team is working on controlling the temperature for them while in bed so that they do not need to rely on family or any other caregivers to turn on a fan or adjust the electric blanket.

The teams are continuing to work on their projects, and Charlotte IoT will be scheduling follow-up events. The hope is to install these solutions for Sean within a couple of months, and then repeat the install for Browning, who lives in Indiana, after some of the kinks have been worked out.

“It was a totally epic day,” Thyer went on to say. “So many people came to help, including technology professionals, college students, and even high school students. It was a great chance for people in the community to learn about technology while helping others.”

“I’m excited about the direction this is taking!” said Charles Lord in a comment on the group’s Meetup page. Lord is an IoT specialist and electronic/embed design consultant.

Many technology leaders and sponsors came together to make this event the success that it was. provided two Amazon Echos, two Amazon Echo Dots and four Photon microcontrollers from Particle. Logical Advantage supplied much of the miscellaneous components, including fans, power adaptors, light controls, snacks and one of the IoT hubs. Queen University sponsored the facility and fueled the group with donuts and coffee. Many Charlotte IoT members also contributed, and Jeremy Proffitt was a tech lead who contributed an IoT hub and light control. Thyer also brought his own stash of over a dozen bins filled with electronic parts that the groups pilfered through to source miscellaneous components.

With nearly 1,000 members and growing, this is just one of the many ways Charlotte IoT is giving back to the community through technology. This will undoubtedly be the first of many Civic Hackathons like this one, hosted by Charlotte IoT. For more information or to attend the next event, be sure to join the Meetup group.

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