High Tech High juniors win NYC engineering competition

Two high school juniors engineered a prototype that encourages proper posture.

Rishi Salwi, 17, and Steven Vorona, 16, each captured first place at the  AngelHack Hackathon, an engineering competition that was held this past month at an Amazon pop-up loft in Manhattan.

Salwi and Vorona, who are neighbors, classmates and best friends, idealized and invented “ErgoFix,” an ergonomic electric attachment they said uses sensors to detect problems in an individual’s posture and aim to rectify alignment with digital notifications. 

Salwi and Vorona, are enrolled in the pre-engineering academy at High Technology High School, which is located on the Brookdale Community College campus in Lincroft.

The Marlboro residents said that the project-based courses that are offered at the school require an inquisitive thinking process in order to apply academics to real-word problems.

The duo said their experience in their high school courses was imperative to their success in the competition.

“This school has really prepared us to think creatively,” Vorona said.

Vorona said the 24-hour competition, of which there were 50 participating teams, required code to be written in order to program a software and hardware system that would carry out a useful function.

The theme of the challenge – seamless technology and its inclusion in everyday life, Vorona said. “You needed to take an idea and make it into something real as quickly as possible.”

Salwi said the duo were the only two high school students, among the 200 other competitors of industry professionals, who were registered in the competition.

“These people actually had work experience,” Salwi said as he reflected on his skilled competitors.

Vorona described seamless technology as a device individuals can use that would appease a specific function carried out on a daily basis. He said the invention needed to be easy and effective for integration in everyday life. 

“There should be no noticeable difference in the way they go about their lives (when using the device), while at the same time improving their lives,” Vorona said.

ErgoFix, a sensory unit, relies on four sensors to assess the weight distribution of an individual seated in a chair. While a person remains seated, Vorona said, the sensors will detect the status of an individual’s posture.

If the person is not sitting up straight, or begins to slouch, he continued, a notification will appear in the upper righthand corner of the user’s computer, reminding them to improve their posture. 

The notification is a subtle reminder to users that they need to sit up straight in order to avoid back problems they said a person might experience when seated for an extended period of time, Salwi said.

“If a person leans too much to one side or if they even begin to slouch, the sensors will detect that distribution,” Vorona said.

Rishi said an individual’s data is collected over time via Amazon Web Services – a cloud computing system that will track changes in posture in order for proper alignment to be addressed and maintained.

“We think this could be really useful in the workplace,” Vorona said.”A company could buy the product, ErgoFix, to help gradually improve the employees’ posture.”

When describing the device, Vorona said four weight sensors are attached to a microcontroller – a small computing system that detects changes in pressure – which transfer the information to a single-board computer. Once a signal reaches the computer, he said, the signal will travel via wifi to a desktop computer, appearing as a pop up notification on the device.

“Even if you are sitting too long, the system will notify you to maybe take a walk because you have been seated too long,” Salwi said.

After claiming title of champions, Vorona and Salwi were admitted to the competition’s “HACKcelerator” program, they said.

AngelHack’s 12-week pre-accelerator program, HACKcelerator, connects individuals with thought-leaders and experienced entrepreneurs to help their ideas become more versatile. Teams refine their ideas to build their hackathon winning prototype into a startup company, according to the organization’s website.

Vorona said ErgoFix will be further developed with the help of industry professionals.

The top-qualifying participant in the HACKcelerator program, Vorona said, will advance to a competition in California where the victorious inventors pitch their ideas to entrepreneur. The entreprenurs will invest in the concepts that are more likely to ensure a profit, they said.

Vorona compared the presentation to evaluation process portrayed on the ABC show “Shark Tank.”

Vorona and Salwi will compete against previous winners of other AngelHack Hackathon competitions that were held around the country.

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