Media Contacts

For press inquiries and other news-related questions please click here. Read More

Olin in the news

For recent media coverage please click here. Read More

Return To News

Olin Students Win Grand Prize in Perkins School for the Blind Hackathon

Multiple student teams compete in day long event

At the first Perkins School for the Blind 24-hour hackathon, an Olin team earned the grand prize for a device that allows coders with a visual impairment to identify trends or patterns in visual data through a tool that tactilely communicates the data.

The winning design was chosen out of 22 entries submitted by more than 100 college students who participated in the event from colleges in the United States and Canada.

The team included Annabel Consilvio, Kathryn Hite, Shane Kelly and Anisha Nakagawa. The four students worked to address challenges faced by coding professionals and students with visual impairments who are often unable to quickly interpret data, such as server logs, which are commonly represented as visual graphs. Their solution, a Tactile Access to Data device (TAD), allows users to move forward and backward through the data at their own pace and report out time stamps when they find anomalies that they want to check out further. Users rest their fingers on two plastic panels, which are moved up and down by tiny servomotors. The panels move up and down according to the dataset’s values, allowing the user’s fingers to sense the patterns in the data.

“Working with our challenge expert, Chris, and learning from his experiences as a software engineer with a visual impairment was a great experience.  Perkins encouraged students to work closely with users around specific challenges in their lives, which isn’t common at hackathons,” said Kathryn Hite, who participated in the event as part of the winning team.

In all, 18 Olin students participated in the Perkins event. In addition to the TAD team, Sean Carter, Serena Chen, Jamie Cho, Lisa Hachmann, Kaitlyn Keil, Miriam Kome, William Lu, Ariana Olson, Lauren Pudvan, Apurva Raman, Matthew Ruehle, Kimberly Winter and two exchange students, Zhengyang Feng from China and Gwendal Plumier from Belgium, all spent the weekend designing, building, and collaborating.

Olin students came up with a diversity of design ideas. One team created a solution to make the dining hall experience better for college students who are visually impaired by changing the layout and seating arrangements of the dining hall. They presented a 3D-printed model and a website for their final project. Another team came up with GraphTone, which translates visual plots into auditory information using music.  Yet another group designed Touchpoint, which generates 3D-printed graphs from a data set.

Professor of Anthropology Caitrin Lynch and Assistant Professor of Computer Science Paul Ruvolo coordinated the Olin College participation in the event. Both Ruvolo and Lynch have worked on various projects with Perkins, including most recently for a new class Technology, Accessibility and Design; attending the hackathon was a requirement for students in that class.

“We were pleased with the creativity of all of the Olin student teams,” said Lynch. “The Olin students were able to quickly empathize, ideate, hack, and design a solution to the problem at hand at a very high level. It was an inspiring weekend.”   

Ruvolo observed the Olin student-teams actively pursued creative concepts and designs beyond what engineers typically envision.  “For instance, the team that proposed modifying the layout of the dining hall to improve the experience of college students who are visually impaired came up with the idea by examining the problem through the social model of disability, where accessibility can be addressed not just by “fixing” the individual through some sort of assistive device, but can be enhanced by critically examining physical, architectural, and interpersonal factors,” he said.

The 24-hour event, sponsored by Google and Microsoft brought together students, software developers and people with visual impairments to pursue accessibility through innovation

Photo credit: Perkins School for the Blind and Caitrin Lynch