Hacking skills pay off for mechanical engineer


Hacking team

The IQ Sensor team set out to measure blood pressure through a device that a patient could easily wear on the arm. The five team members,  from left, are Kyle Reissner, Rockwell Automation; Mike Hoffman, Cleveland Clinic); Dr. Morteza Vatani, The University of Akron; Ryan Jefferis, Cornell University; and Kyle McKee, LeanDog.

Picture the word “hackathon” and it probably invokes visions of computer nerds huddled together in a dorm room hacking into email accounts (think “Social Network”). In truth, a hackathon is used to describe an organized event where people with different technical backgrounds form teams around a problem. They have 24 to 48 hours to collaboratively design a solution from scratch and, after time runs out, teams demo what they’ve built and compete for prizes.

Dr. Morteza Vatani, a postdoctoral associate in mechanical engineering, was on a team that won first place and a cash prize at the inaugural Cleveland Medical Hackathon, besting 20 other teams. To Vatani, a hackathon sounded like a resourceful way to discover unique uses for his invention — a stretchable pressure sensor, which took him four years to develop during his Ph.D. studies.

BP sensor

Kyle McKee demos the prototype.

With the help of Vatani's invention, the five-member team created “IQ Sensor,” a compact wearable device that transmits a patient’s real time blood pressure. Within the 24-hour period, the team successfully produced a working prototype where the flexible sensor communicated its signal to an iOS app. Their solution won first place and $3,000.

Tenacity pays off

“Finding a new, feasible and possible application for a technology is sometimes as hard as its development,” Vatani reveals.

It was his experience in the National Science Foundation I-Corps Site and I-Corps Team programs that taught him to talk to customers to find out their needs, then apply his invention to provide solutions. “Usually, researchers work hard on developing the technology with fixed ideas in their mind about how to use the completed technology,” he says. “However, sometimes those ideas easily fail” because they don’t address actual market needs.

So, in the spirit of discovering real-world applications for his invention, he signed up for the very first Cleveland Medical Hackathon, which took place Sept. 26-27 at the Global Center for Health Innovation in downtown Cleveland. Doctors, nurses, patient advocates, researchers, scientists, programmers, entrepreneurs, engineers and developers worked more than 24 hours on projects — leveraging technology to solve big challenges in the world of medicine, health and wellness.

Morteza Vatani

Morteza Vatani works on the electronics for his team's hack.

Flexible and accurate

The IQ Sensor team set off to measure blood pressure through a compact wearable device that a patient could easily wear on the arm. The device’s flexible sensor mimics a traditional blood pressure cuff reporting to an app the patient’s real time blood pressure. The idea was centered on mounting the sensor, along with the electronic components, on the bicep and without the need of an airbag to read the patient's blood pressure.

Winning first place was rewarding, but it was the collaboration that excited Vatani the most.

“The Hackathon was a great opportunity to get together with experts from different areas — ranging from engineering to health care. It was really a marathon brainstorming session around new ideas. It was a great chance to form a team of experts to work together in a short amount of time to implement one idea.”

Media contact: Lisa Craig, 330-972-7429 or lmc91@uakron.edu.