Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM) MakeAThon: GEM winners

The Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM) is a global movement of communities that creates and disseminates affordable solutions to the challenges of people living with disabilities, the elderly and the poor. They work with "need-knowers" – people with special needs or the people that work with them daily – to gather information on what they need or want to help them create solutions. This year's TOM held a MakeAThon as part of the celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Israel and Singapore, and Team Temasek took the top three places. The teams that clinched first and third places had students from the Diploma in Social Sciences in Gerontology (GEM). Well done! 

We spoke to both teams to learn more about their winning ideas.

Team Cane (1st place)

GEM team members: Tan Hui Qi Gracia, Ho Jin Xuan Jolyn, Terese Lor Yue Jia

Team Cane

Team Cane was tasked with creating a working prototype of a telescopic cane that was sturdy and lightweight for the visually impaired. The issue with existing telescopic canes is that they are extremely flimsy, and the ball tip of the cane would wear and tear easily.

Initial planning, testing and mapping

Exploring the cane’s mechanism

Before coming up with the solution, the team did some market research and analysed existing telescopic canes, regular sturdy canes and several types of selfie sticks, camera monopods and tripods to test out and observe its ‘extending' mechanisms. They also sought help from a visually impaired "need-knower" to find out his needs and wants for the ideal telescopic cane. Furthermore, their team consisted of engineers, business managers and even a psychologist, so this diversity in backgrounds and expertise brought a well-rounded perspective towards the product; from the engineering process to the user-friendliness and ease of usage of the prototype. The prototype that the team came out with has a structure similar to a selfie monopod – besides being sturdy and lightweight, it was also the easiest for the "need-knower" to extend and retract – and it can be easily commercialised and modified to suit the target market.

Building the prototype

In the beginning, the GEM students were baffled as to why they were invited to participate in the MakeAThon given the emphasis on engineering and prototype-making. But it has been an enriching experience for them as they went through the various processes to come out with a working prototype. Being in GEM – where they developed interpersonal skills – has also helped them as they took the initiative to start talking to the "need-knower" to understand in detail what his needs are. The members agree that the valuable knowledge gained from the MakeAThon is priceless. It is also a great opportunity for them to learn, grow and develop further through working with people who want to initiate and make a difference for the under-served group in society.

Team Induction Hob (3rd place)

GEM team members: Bryan Chang Yi, Chong Yi Ting Elyn, Martin Wang Liang Sen

Team Induction Hob

The team's "need-knower" Erna, who is visually-impaired and runs a cooking class for others with similar challenges, provided them with the problem statement, "… looking for a solution where off-the-shelf induction hobs can be hacked and have audio feedback added to aid visually impaired persons to cook independently".  Although there are existing talking induction hobs, it had to be imported and they are expensive with no local warranty.

The working prototype

Therefore, Team Induction Hob's solution was to configure a Raspberry Pi (a low cost, credit-card sized computer that allows people of all ages to explore computing and programming) and wire it alongside the induction hob. It is connected to a mini-speaker that provides voice output to mimic the controls keyed in when operating the hob – essentially a hob that talks to you when controls are pressed. For example, it will inform users of the mode, "Rice cooking mode", or the temperature, "80 degrees Celsius". This helps the visually-impaired to know exactly what they are keying in. These engineered modifications are stored in a small customised 3D-printed box fixed alongside the hob. The team also took into consideration the shape of the buttons, giving them distinctive shapes to amplify the sense of touch. They made a removable silicone mat that had a hole big enough for a large pot or pan to be placed accurately at the centre of the hob. It also acts as a safety cover to prevent accidental contact with the heat source.

Programming the Raspberry Pi

The success of the team is owing to genuinely wanting to understand Erna's needs and not presuming to know the issues that she faces. They cooked together with her and also simulated her experience by cooking with blindfolds on. Finding out which features are her priorities helped them to focus on crafting a solution that would benefit her daily use.

The GEM students were grateful for the opportunity although they felt out of place in their team due to the high level of experience their teammates (most with an engineering background) had in their areas of work.  However, they soon realised that GEM was chosen for a reason to participate and they discovered an area in which they can contribute: improving the user experience. They used the skills acquired in their course of study to interview the "need-knower" and made use of probing questions to dig deeper. Thus they provided clarity to the engineering team about the specific issues needed to be addressed. Aside from that, they were also given the opportunity to design the hob.

The blueprint of Team Induction Hob's idea is still being improved upon and will be published online for anyone to access free of charge. The beneficiaries of this idea will be those with visual impairments who desire to cook despite the challenges, and with this solution it is possible.