Jason Ben Nathan / Sun Senior Photographer

February 21, 2016

Cornell Hosts First Make-A-Thon

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One hundred and twenty students gathered from Cornell, colleges throughout the Northeast and local high schools to design models of tech gadgets for daily life in Cornell’s first-ever Make-A-Thon this weekend.

Sixteen teams participated in this competition, which was run by Life Changing Labs, an organization that provides mentorship, resources and real life experience for “Cornell’s top entrepreneurially minded students,” according to the group’s website.

Students of varying interests from engineering to business participated in the competition. Competitors were challenged to design a product that would incorporate smart living into day-to-day routines.

“With these criteria too, it’s a little bit more than just making the coolest thing,” said Michael Raspuzzi ’16, the main organizer of the competition. “It’s making something that solves a problem that is the best solution for that problem, and can impact the world in some way.”

Despite the original plans for the event, high school students competed against college students, rather than against others in their age group, according to Raspuzzi.

“The judges did not know were high school teams pitching,” he said. “The top three teams were selected based on criteria listed alone.

The 16 competing teams had to come up with ideas for a product, create a prototype for the device and pitch their model in a final presentation.

A Make-a-Thon differs from a hack-a-thon because hack-a-thons rely more heavily on software, while this kind of contest relies on hardware, according to Raspuzzi.

“In a normal hack-a-thon, you sign in, you meet the six people you’re going to work with, and then you go into a room for 24 hours,” Raspuzzi said. “This is very different — everyone is in one space.”

Competitors were judged on five different criteria, including the importance of their idea, its viability, the product they create, its creativity, and presentation of the product, according to the Make-A-Thon’s PR Lead Jimmy Guo ’16.

Jimmy Chen ’19, said his group wanted to make a light and temperature monitoring system that would save people money over time and cost around $100.

“We [used] a combination of light and temperature sensors to first, sense the light outside and then adjust the light levels of your house inside accordingly,” Chen said. “We [adjusted] the light levels inside through dimming lights and adjusting blinds, which will be fully automated.”

The winning group created a product called P!llPall, a product that helps people remember when to take their medications, according to Ruth Silcoff, a junior at Ithaca High School and member of the winning team.

“The bracelet is programmed with when you need to take them,” she said. “When it is time for your pills, it vibrates until you press a button. The button dispenses the pills for that time and stops the vibration.”

Silcoff said the invention is intended for anyone who takes pills on a regular basis, but it is specifically geared toward older people who take more pills and may have worse memories.

Joanne Kim ’17 said she competed with a group of all juniors that had multiple ideas, one of which was considering how they could aid children and the elderly in the medical field.

“This past summer I had to help my grandma through her hospital needs because she got fairly ill,” Kim said. “I think this is a really awesome opportunity to help further that cause and to make some innovation for the elderly in the medical field.”

She said her group was not just focused on winning, even though many other groups had that goal.

“While we’re all here, we’re very excited about it,” Kim said, “And we’re really dedicated to making a change.”