Mines student’s team wins LinkedIn Hackathon

A team that included a Colorado School of Mines computer science student won the 2017 LinkedIn Intern Hackathon with their IntelliPill, a smart pill-monitoring system for the elderly.

Nhan Tran, president of the Mines Robotics Club, has always had a passion for engineering and innovation. He's been an intern with Google's Nest Labs this summer and decided to apply for the competition after getting wind of it at a networking event.

Tran and fellow Google intern Eric Miller had met a few weeks prior to the competition at an internal “Nooglers” (new Googlers) event, and Team Why Not came together at the Hackathon opening ceremony where all participants mingled to form teams and brainstorm ideas.

“We talked about our backgrounds, schools, skills, potential ideas, then a common theme slowly began to emerge—making smart, connected devices in the Internet of Things (IoT) to care for the elderly,” said Tran. Tran was inspirited in part by his own personal experience of having to call his grandfather each night to remind him to take his medication.

The team came up with a timeline, a to-do list and a product roadmap to stay on track during the competition, which took place over just 24 hours.

“After seeing various cool ideas and solid presentations the other teams did, we kind of did not expect much,” said Tran. The team thought they were lucky when they got selected as one of the top 10 presentations out of the original 45 teams. “Then when they announced us first place, we were over-the-moon excited! We rushed on stage and hugged each other,” Tran said.

Team Why Not with their $10,000 award check.

Team Why Not with their $10,000 award check. From left to right: Maura Winstanley, Emmeline Kuo, Liam Kelly, Nhan Tran, Eric Miller.

Photo courtesy of Nhan Tran.

The concept behind IntelliPill is rather simple—design a smart pill-monitoring system within the Internet of Things to reduce the amount of irregular and missed doses, particularly in the elderly population.

The challenge came in organizing the various elements needed for the competition.

In a blog post reflecting on the experience, team member Emmeline Pelaez Kuo writes about the hardware the team scrounged together to build the pill rack prototype: “an impExplorer™ Developer Kit that Liam [Kelly] had brought, a roll of packing tape from Eric [Miller]’s car and the discarded lid of a pizza box that Nhan carefully cut into panels.”

In addition to the prototype, the team also needed to build a compelling mobile app and a web server to integrate the software, along with a launch plan, a business model and a vision for what IntelliPill could become. They had 14 hours total.

The team scrambled to prepare everything in time, with Tran taking the lead on prototyping the front-end client app, Miller building the Python server backend and Kelly coding the impExplorer™ hardware to ineract with the server and Android app. “These three pieces would allow the app user to schedule and trigger specific pill notifications, and immediately see the result when the pill is taken or missed,” explains Kuo in the blog.

Kuo and teammate Maura Winstanley took the lead on the business portion of the presentation, researching current “smart pill” solutions and developing a marketing plan for IntelliPill. The team’s system was to be marketed as a consumer-based product for nursing homes and assisted-living centers, with the vision of building a community around IntelliPill and eventually expanding the suite of intelligent medical products.

Having successfully tested the hardware-software integration just one hour before the competition, the team had not even had time to come up with a team name. “We submitted everything within the last few minutes,” said Tran. “When we were asked what our team name was, we didn't have much time to think so we just went with Why Not!”

Nhan Tran in his official Google intern hat.

Nhan Tran in his official Noogler intern hat and Instagram famous pup @vincenzopepito.

Photo Credit: Sherrie Holod, Nest Labs.

The team successfully gave their two-minute pitch in the preliminary judging phase, describing how IntelliPill decreases preventable deaths and illnesses for elderly people, and landed a spot in the top 10.

“Now in the spotlight on the big stage, we cleanly delivered our presentation, describing our solution for a $7 trillion industry in elderly care,” Kuo said.

The combination of a compelling dilemma paired with a working prototype and a clear business model led the team to victory.

Tran said there are no plans to use the $10,000 first-place prize to develop their concept further because “delivering a hardware product is a bit more complicated than coding an app and putting it on the app store for people to use.”

Hardware is an essential component of the IntelliPill system, which works by integrating the mobile app and IoT pill rack to remind the elderly person which pill bottle to take via a buzzing sound and a colorful LED, at the time scheduled in the app.

But this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a future for IntelliPill or an even smarter dose-monitoring solution.

“I have an interest in robotics and making intelligent systems that could be helpful for people like IntelliPill,” Tran said. “I’m enjoying my internship with Nest because we're building thoughtful products to take care of the people inside the home and the surrounding world. My team and I will do more research and more networking—maybe sometime in the future.”

The team split their $10K prize equally, and Tran plans on using this money to fund his education—“I’m considering pursuing a master’s degree,” he said.

Agata Bogucka, Communications Manager, College of Earth Resource Sciences & Engineering | 303-384-2657 | abogucka@mines.edu
Mark Ramirez, Managing Editor, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3088 | ramirez@mines.edu
About Mines
Colorado School of Mines is a public research university focused on science and engineering, where students and faculty together address the great challenges society faces today - particularly those related to the Earth, energy and the environment.