Oct 11, 2016
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Smart devices have been turning on lights and controlling home air conditioners for years, but that’s just the beginning for the Internet of Things. The next generation of IoT has the potential to dramatically impact society. With that theme in mind, season 2’s teams in the Qualcomm #WhyWait Invent-Off web documentary series were tasked with using IoT to invent something that could save lives.
Here we talk to Hannah Sarver, a software engineer and member of the winning Blue team, about her experience on Invent-Off (she and her teammates took on the problem of snake bites, which kill thousands of people every year all over the world). We also talked to her about working collaboratively, how everyone can become an inventor, and more.
What inspired you to compete in Qualcomm’s #WhyWait Invent-off?
I had participated previously in a variety of hackathons and other events related to the Internet of Things, but I was really inspired and interested by the theme of using technology to save a life. That’s something that’s really valuable and practical.
What does the term “Why Wait” mean to you, and how was it applied here?
The way that Why Wait came through to me is the idea of applying technology to the real problems that we have now and not waiting for a perfect solution with the exact technology we need. It’s about using the tools that we have to make progress in addressing actual issues.
Diving into the competition itself, what was the brainstorming process like?
A lot of my experience has been working closely with other people or with teams, so I’m very comfortable bouncing ideas around with other people and leveraging different people’s experiences. I think we never would’ve come up with the idea that we did without our captain Ian’s experience and our teammate Mike’s creative ideas. It was really cool to see how different people thought about the challenge in different ways. I think that, as a team, we came up with something that was a lot more compelling than any one of us could’ve generated on our own.
Once you were able to roll up your sleeves, what was it like using the DragonBoard 410c?
It was a very cool opportunity. I was really impressed by the functionality that the board provided. You know, I’d used other processors and microcontrollers that had one of its features, but not all. Like, “Okay, this is cool because it has GPS, or because it has a sensor input,” but the DragonBoard platform had a lot of those things, all in one package, and that was pretty cool.
The Invent-Off deadline was three days. Are you used to working under such tight deadlines?
It was kind of reminiscent of a lot of student projects where maybe I have a whole semester to do the project, but I pushed to get something out in the last few days. So working under a deadline and staying up late and coding is not too different from other things that I’ve done before. It’s always sort of a rush of adrenaline.
Your role seemed to include a lot of trial and error. Was that frustrating or satisfying?
I think it could definitely be both. Anytime you’re working with a new technology and a totally new set of expectations, it can be kind of frustrating to say to yourself, “I think that it should work this way, but it’s not. What’s going on?”
But if you can get through that frustration and get to the point where you say, “Okay, I hit this button and it takes off,” that is just like the best feeling in the world. It’s great to see something actually happen. So I would say it could be frustrating along the way, but I love that feeling of satisfaction when everything comes together and works.
What was it like to present your project to the judges?
We were pretty confident that all the components were going to work. And we had some contingency plans, so I wasn’t too worried that everything was going to entirely explode in our faces.
I think the judges were a really great audience, and they asked us hard questions. They wanted details, and asked how we were going to penetrate the target market and how the project is actually relevant to the people we’re trying to reach. They were pushing us to think about the things that we hadn’t thought about and really justify that we were pitching a valuable idea. I thought that it was a really valuable experience.
Were you surprised when you found out that your team won?
I was definitely surprised that we won.
We had sort of seen the other team working across the room, but we hadn’t seen a lot of the details. We could tell that both projects were really cool, had interesting components, and real potential to save lives. I think that they were two really good projects, and I wasn’t sure which way the judges were going to go.
How has the project progressed since the last episode?
We’ve had calls with two Qualcomm mentors, Charles Bergan, Qualcomm Technologies’ VP of Engineering, and Navrina Singh, Head of Qualcomm ImpaQt, after the Invent-Off. They provided great insight into how we might approach continuing this project from a business and technical resource perspective. The mentors had suggestions about organizations to research or reach out to that will be valuable as we continue to explore where we want to go next.
Are you and Team Blue moving forward with your idea?
We’ve had an ongoing discussion within the team, especially since our calls with Charles and Navrina, about how we want to move forward with our idea. We’re very excited about its potential to help people, but we are all busy and decided that the scope of the project — including device propagation, data acquisition, diagnosis, connection with local medical help, and drone deployment of anti-venom — was a bit too large for us to tackle in its entirety.
So we’ve been exploring what’s already out there in each of these areas and where we see a real opportunity to build something useful, whether it’s a standalone product or an open-source effort. Although our plan is still early in coalescing, options we’ve talked about include partnering with research institutions to build up knowledge of heart rate data in snake bite events and partnering with companies working on drone delivery to push towards a medical supply application.
What are you working on yourself these days?
Since graduating from UC Berkeley with a Master’s Degree in Engineering, I’ve started a new job in Silicon Valley and have been filling my free time with baking projects, my community symphonic band, helping my roommate plan lessons for her physics and design students, and programming the drone from the Invent-Off.
If you were able to work with the DragonBoard 410c for more than just three days, what would you like to create?
I think the aspect that we didn’t leverage as much as we could have is its huge computing power. We dipped a little bit into doing machine learning on a small dataset, but I think there’s really a lot of potential there with a platform like that to do more extensive training, and then go out in the field and have a standalone device that could use machine learning to do compelling work.
What advice would you give to aspiring inventors?
Start building. We are lucky to live in time in which the resources are there. So I would say, just grab some cardboard and tape and build something that addresses a need in your life, or someone else’s life, and start from there. Just keep building stuff. That’s really the best way to learn.
Your team developed an autonomous drone that could deliver snakebite anti-venom. If you could push a button and have something delivered to you, what would it be?
I’ve been thinking about that. I could think of a lot of fun answers. I was baking the other day and realized, when I was in the middle of it, that I was out of eggs. I thought, “Man, if I could push a button and get a drone to just deliver that one ingredient that I need!” That would be fun to see. But, honestly, the ideal thing that I would be most excited to see is a drone deliver something lifesaving. If we could get things like anti-venom or other medical supplies to people that need them, or food to people in places where it’s hard to get things delivered through traditional channels, I would much rather see that than taco drones.
It sounds like being part of Invent-Off really allowed you to work on a dream project.
Yeah. This was the most exciting thing I’ve gotten to work on.
Thanks, Hannah. And congratulations!
Be sure to watch Season 2 of the Qualcomm #WhyWait Invent-Off.