A dozen teams of high school students converged at Yeshiva University in Washington Heights last month, to make life better for the seniors whom the Jewish Home Family of Rockleigh serves.
The hackathon was organized by the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education, which promotes STEM education in Jewish day schools.
The students were given computer hardware — microprocessors and sensors — and five hours to design a device that would meet the needs of one of four seniors described in scenarios prepared by the Jewish Home. Four of the competing teams were from Bergen County, representing the Frisch School in Paramus, the Idea School in Tenafly, Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck, and the Torah Academy of Bergen County, also in Teaneck.
“It was incredibly inspirational to watch these fine young minds working,” Carol Silver Elliott, president of the Jewish Home Family, said. “Not only were they inventing products that could work, they were really thinking about a market they hadn’t thought about before. They were thinking about the complexity of older people and how to care for them.”
CIJE wants to put human concerns front and center in young engineers’ minds.
“Our students will bring a Torah-mindedness and ethical approach as they create the future,” Orly Nadler, who works on STEM education with CIJE, said.
At the end of the day, the teams each made a three-minute presentation of their project.
The winner: the Frisch team. They worked on one of the Jewish Home’s scenarios, which described a frail woman who wanted to travel across the country to visit her family, despite her caregivers’ concerns. The students cobbled together a device that could be strapped to her arm and could measure her heart rate, detect a fall, connect to caregivers, and beep reminders to take medicine — and sends updates to a website.
“It allows their aide to monitor them,” Dylan Spieser explained. Dylan, a 10th grader from Tenafly, was one of the five members of the Frisch team. The other members were Jonathan Katz, Abi Langer, Beni Romm, and Eitan Traurig.
“It was very hard to get working. But in the end it worked,” he said.
Dylan said that for as long as he can remember, he has been interested in taking things apart and seeing how they work. He was on the robotics team when he was in middle school. At Frisch, he is in the engineering track. “That’s one of the reasons I chose Frisch,” he said. “Even if we hadn’t won I would have really enjoyed the whole process, because that’s what I enjoy doing.”
Dylan said that the goals of the CIJE competition aligned with the focus of the Frisch engineering program. “A lot of the things we talk about are people with disabilities and elderly people and other people who would benefit from help,” he said.
In May, CIJE will host Innovation Day, which is expected to draw more than 1,200 Jewish high school students who will present more than 400 projects. Dylan is working on a project to develop an in-home water filtration system that would recycle water going down the drain.
“It’s intended to go under the sink,” Dylan said. “It will detect how clean the water is coming down the drain,” using various visual and chemical sensors. “If it is clean enough to be salvaged, we will clean it and filter it into a separate tank with a separate tap.” This water could be used for dish washing.
Dylan said his dream job “is to be a Disney Imagineer, building the animatronics you see on the rides.”
Ms. Elliott of the Jewish Home doesn’t think technology “will ever replace human beings in care, but I do think that technology can facilitate care and help improve care,” she said.
Besides the Frisch team’s device to monitor falls, there were several efforts to build equipment to help manage medication for people living at home. “Lots of people are aging in place,” Ms. Elliott said. “Tracking devices that would enable you to know when they’re taking their medication would be a huge thing.
“Technology can play an important role in dealing with social isolation. Loneliness is a huge issue of aging. Can we find ways to create virtual communities for older adults, where maybe they’re plugging into classes that are stimulating, or talking to their family members?”
She said that the Jewish Home is always looking into new technology it can use. “One of the things we’re experimenting with is a pad placed under the mattress cover that can sense differences in your heart rate and breathing,” she said. “The more information we have, the more accurate your care can be.
“Part of our underlying agenda with the hackathon is not only to enlighten young people about the world of older adult services, but to engage them, to have them consider that this might be a career they want to be a part of. We got a lot of interest, a lot of energy and excitement — hopefully we’ll have some long term impact there.”
Sunni Herman, CEO of the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, also represented the Jewish Home at the hackathon. “It was wonderful watching the students work together as a team,” she said. “Not just in terms of when they were creating their creations, but when they gave their presentations as well. It was timed to be very quick, but they ensured different people had different roles in their presentations.”
She said she and Ms. Elliott “were marveling at the brainpower in the room, and the way they were thinking of creative solutions for older adults.”