Rishab Nayak, a junior majoring in computer science (CS) and chemistry at Boston University, wants to build technologies that can be deployed at scale for social good, particularly in healthcare. When asked what he would do if he could do anything in life, Nayak says he would “create the tricorder from Star Trek—a small device that can [read a medical] diagnosis and prognosis.” He shares his mission to innovate technology solutions to help others with two friends he knows from Bangalore, India—UMass Amherst CS students Aditya Narayanan and Abhinav Tripathy.
The trio was exposed to the needs of the visually impaired in April 2018 at Perkins Hacks—a hackathon for solving real-world problems hosted by Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts. Nayak and his friends had grandparents with sight and/or mobility disabilities, so they wanted to invent a wearable device that helps older adults and people who are low vision to safely navigate spaces—“an autopilot for humans.”
The team developed their idea at HackHarvard in October 2018, using Cloud Storage, Google Cloud’s unified object storage service, and Firebase, Google’s app development platform. Their wearable prototype used a microcontroller with a camera to split the video into frames on the device. The device would then send the frames to a Cloud Storage bucket to perform analysis before offering audio feedback about people and objects surrounding the user. “It was easy to learn how to use Cloud Firestore as our NoSQL document database during the hackathon,” Nayak says. “We used the onSnapshot( ) method to listen to a document, which allowed us to update a database entry from anywhere and receive the update in real time on another device."
Their device, called Stepify, won the Best Use of Google Cloud prize, which led to a transcontinental partnership with like-minded students more than 3,500 miles away.