Two Upper School students create a hat that functions like a compass to help Alzheimer's and Parkinson's patients with their sense of direction
In many ways, Conrad and Meera's Quest Project is a study in independence. The two set out to design and build a device to help Alzheimer's and Parkinson's patients maintain a sense of direction, and, in turn, hold onto a small but crucial part of their independence. But with neither student having a background in programming, they, too, needed to independently research and seek out the necessary resources to move their product from concept to reality.
After more than 20 hours of work in their Design Thinking class and another 3 to 4 hours outside of school, and with the invaluable help of the I-Lab team, Conrad and Meera created what to most observers appears to be an average baseball hat. But average it is not. The hat's brim is covered in pager motors that vibrate to signal which direction is North. When a patient is wearing the hat, the northernmost pager vibrates, allowing them to always find North.
"With time, the brain learns to interpret these signals and the patient gains a natural sense of direction. Based on our research in the field of neuroplasticity, after wearing the hat for a certain amount of time, the patient can take the hat off and will have an improved sense of direction," Meera explained.
The two were a perfect match for the challenge. Conrad is interested in neuroplasticity and how the brain changes over time. Meera has a passion for neurological disorders. They worked as a team, combined their knowledge, dove into extensive research, and utilized the I-Lab staff to understand programming and code.
"We had to learn along the way, and this slowed the process down a fair bit. There were times where we would have a problem that we were not sure how even to approach. With time and help from our teachers and mentors, we have managed to overcome the challenges we have faced," said Conrad .
The two also learned the importance of seeking user feedback and using that re-conceptualize. Initially, they intended to create a belt, but discovered through feedback it was too clunky and not stylish enough. "Sometimes when working on projects, we get so caught up in an exact plan that we neglect to check in with our users about what they think about our idea. Getting user feedback has helped tremendously so far," noted Conrad.
In the end, the students found their way, successfully navigating multiple challenges. "We learned about how important flexibility is during almost all projects. Although being attached to your exact project plan can serve as initial motivation, a willingness to adapt goes a long way in making your product efficient and useful in the real world," Meera said.