Second Annual Rothberg Catalyzer Competition at Choate

On April 6, Choate Rosemary Hall hosted the second annual Rothberg Catalyzer competition in the Lin i.d.Lab. Forty students worked collaboratively in eight teams in an all-day session to explore this year's topic of how to improve human abilities with technological assistance.

Sponsored by Dr. Jonathan Rothberg P '17, '19, founder of medical device incubator, 4Catalyzer, and recipient of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the competition brings together teams from Choate, Yale, Brown, Penn, and Carnegie Mellon University in a human-centered design hack-a-thon challenge that aims to "catalyze" new ideas for improving and transforming human lives.

The Rothberg Catalyzer competition asks students to identify, articulate, and develop a product or service that addresses vital human needs. This year's topic focuses on human disabilities, and how to make the world more inclusive and accessible using technology.

Students started by brainstorming and discussing some of the issues surrounding a "disability," beginning with the World Health Organization's observation that disabilities are not health problems that individuals suffer from, but are rather contextual: they are the mismatching of human abilities and human environments. This year's participants sought to better match abilities with environments, with twelve students from Miss Porter's School joining Choate students to create functional components for the competition.

Each team presented their own prototype for devices that would help make it easier for individuals with disabilities to interact with the world. Participants came up with ideas for:

  • safEarbuds – a smart device that prevents hearing loss and enables selective hearing enhancement;
  • Chatter Chess – a physical assistance voice-controlled robotic arm device for playing chess and completing routine actions;
  • ReadMark – a position-keeping device for assisting or improving reading for those with dyslexia and sight-impairments;
  • SmartCapsule – an app-connected device that helps patients keep track of prescription medicine schedules, dispensing medications and alerting patients when it is time to take them;
  • The 3rd Eye – an echo-location device that helps those with sight disabilities;
  • lifTable – a domestic forklift, a compact and mobile device for households that assists with lifting things vertically;
  • helperGripper – a soft robotic arm that uses a balloon like gripper with vacuum force to pick up and move that may be delicate or rounded; and
  • caneUp – a smart device for sight disabilities, gently and intuitively providing more information about the location of objects.

The helperGripper ultimately won the challenge. The winning team will take a trip to Carnegie Mellon University's AI and Robotics Labs in May, where they will meet the other Rothberg Catalyzer teams.

View photos from this event here.