Singapore Poly students' tech solutions to help Parkinson's disease patients and the elderly

S'pore Poly duo win contest with their robot that aims to stimulate minds of senior citizens

Polytechnic student Heng Yin Qi knows what Parkinson's disease can do to a person, having watched her aunt struggle with simple tasks.

"I could see her struggling with drinking water or writing because her hands were shaking," said the 18-year-old first-year aerospace electronics student at Singapore Polytechnic (SP).

So when she and coursemate Lee Wei Juin, 22, entered the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow competition, her aunt's experience provided the inspiration for their entry.

The competition encourages students to use technology to come up with innovative solutions to social issues in their community.

The two students came up with Shaky, a device that can be attached to objects such as utensils, plates and cups to monitor tremors. The device can counter the tremors and stabilise the objects.

Of the 153 entries in the Institute of Higher Learning category, theirs was among the 10 shortlisted submissions. Five of the teams were picked as winners last Friday.

Though the device did not make it to the top five, Mr Lee said: "We were glad we could solve a problem that someone close to us was facing... It hit quite close to home."

The two of them have plans to develop the device further and explore it as a solution to turbulence on an aircraft.

Two other students from SP won for their submission - an interactive therapeutic pet robot they named SP Buddy.

Electrical and electronic engineering students Mohamed Umar, 19, and Wong Jun Heng, 20, tapped an idea from their seniors but added their own improvements, such as new games and enhancements to its in-built speakers and sensors.

The robotic dog aims to get the elderly to think and move around more. For example, one game requires the user to choose a tile that completes a random mahjong sequence. If the right tile is selected, the dog will nod its "head" and let out an encouraging "bark".

Said Mr Wong: "We didn't come here to win - there were plenty of other good ideas submitted - but it was really good that we won. The win really justifies the amount of effort we put into this."

The five winning teams each received $5,000 in cash, $10,000 worth of Samsung products, a study trip to Seoul as well as internship opportunities at Samsung Electronics Singapore.

A Samsung spokesman said the ideas presented had "potential to drive positive change in Singapore".

"Ideas that built upon and improved on previous work were also welcome," he said.

For Republic Polytechnic students Jordan Sia, 19, and Azimah, 21, who goes by one name, a service learning project at a nursing home was what prompted them to take part in the contest.

Mr Sia, an aerospace avionics student, and Ms Azimah, who is doing a course in supply chain management, came up with a locked pill dispenser to help patients keep track of the medication they take daily.

The dispenser has seven compartments for each day of the week and three slots in each compartment.

It can prove useful to, say, dementia patients who may not remember whether they have taken their medication, and end up taking it twice.

This is where the slots come in. Each comes with LED lights and a buzzer to indicate medication consumption time.

The duo, whose entry was shortlisted but did not win, heard about the competition barely three weeks before the Oct 21 deadline.

Mr Sia said: "When we decided to join the competition, we had only 19 days to work. But it's all about the experience - it was a once in a lifetime chance for us."