The second annual UofT Hacks wrapped up earlier this week in Toronto. The theme of this year's hack was Social Benefit which challenged teams to use tech to for the betterment of mankind and boy did they deliver. The 3-day event saw 500 participants team up and submit 115 hacks using both software and hardware to do some good.  

Many of the hacks used wearables to tackle problems which ranged from epilepsy to homelessness as teams had access to devices and mentors from Pebble, Thalmic Labs, Nymi, MeU and Intel. But as team members could also bring in their own devices to use as part of the hack we also spotted Oculus Rift, Android Wear watches and the brain-sensing headband Muse. 

Three of the ten finalists were wearable hacks, all of which went on to place as either a grand prize winner or runner-up. 

Pulse - Grand Prize Winner

Pulse is a smartwatch app which turns an Android Wear device into a wearable metronome. The app was developed by a team of bandmates who saw an opportunity to use the haptic feedback of a smartwatch to keep band members in sync. The body contact of the smartwatch makes it easier to feel the rhythm compared to a traditional metronome which is hard to hear over guitars and drums. By tapping on the app, a count can be set and this count can be sent to others wearing a smartwatch with the same app installed. Beyond helping bands jam, the team identified that this same app could be used for the deaf and hearing impaired to augment their experience with music or crowd experiences such as concerts and parades. In this way, users would be shared the rhythm of the song which they would feel via the haptics of the device to allow them to share this experience with the crowd. Pulse was selected by the judges (one of which was our very own Tom Emrich) as one of two grand prize winners of the hack.

BrainWatch - Runner-up

BrainWatch targeted epilepsy for their hack, in particular children with epilepsy. The team used Muse, the brain-sensing headband as a way to monitor a child with epilepsy and then alert the caregiver if they are having a seizure. The EEG headband would be expected to be worn by a child at night, which is when a seizure is most likely to occur, according to the team. This data is then sent to the cloud and through to a Pebble app they created which would be active on the wrist of the caregiver. The watch app uses algorithms to determine the condition of the patient: if they are in danger, the watch alerts the user by vibrating for a certain period of time along with a message; if the patient's condition is critical, the user is alerted by a longer vibration as well as a message.  

SpeedRun - Runner-up 

The team behind SpeedRun created an Android smartphone app that gamifies exercise and a companion Android Wear and Pebble app which takes the game to the next level. The premise of the game is to run around the city to collect orbs which either give you points or extend your time. Orbs are placed automatically based on the user's location and a user's score is compared to others in the game using Google's leaderboard. Users can either see these orbs in the Android smartphone app or can use the smartwatch to be shown the direction and distance of the nearest one.  With the watch companion app, you won’t ever need to pull out your phone during the workout, because once you reach a checkpoint, your watch will vibrate and the next destination will be set automatically.


Some of the other wearable projects which caught our eye used wearable open source LED matrix MeU and the heartbeat authentication bracelet Nymi. Using MeU, one team created an application which would allow charities to upload their messages and then users to select their cause and change the message on their t-shirts accordingly. Another team used the Nymi as a way to manage donations to the homeless leveraging the Nymi's unique persistent identity capabilities which include the ability to use the bracelet for payment. In this concept, the homeless would be given a Nymi and then donations made to a centralized charity would be shared equally to those that wore the it. The homeless users would then be able to purchase food, coffee and other goods with the tap of their wrist and when this occurred a text message would be sent to the person who donated the funds. Bonus amounts would also be considered to be granted to the homeless as a reward system for things like checking into a shelter or seeking medical attention. 

The two grand prize teams walked away with travel and accommodation to Korea where they will go onto competing at the Global Hackathon Seoul competition. But really the winners of this event was everyone as all teams illustrated the potential technology has on truly making our lives easier, especially for those in need.