When CTYer Emma Yang and her family moved from Hong Kong to New York two years ago, the hardest part was leaving her Grandma. Not only did the move put a great distance between them; it made it difficult for the family to communicate with her, since she has Alzheimer’s.
“When we talk on the phone, she’ll ask the same questions over and over again,” said Emma, 11. “She’ll ask us how we’re doing and then ask us again like five more times.”
As the illness progresses, Emma has been using her love of coding to develop a way to reconnect with her Grandma. She’s taken CTY Online Programs courses in Scratch programming and web design, and in the summer of 2014, she took Introduction to Robotics at CTY Hong Kong.
“It was the first time I had the chance to learn how the hardware and software work together,” she said. “I liked the summer course because I could really dive into how robotics work.”
Early this year, she started using Apple app-development software to create a prototype of an app that can bridge the communication gap between Alzheimer’s patients and their loved ones. Her app, “Timeless,” uses artificial intelligence-based facial recognition software to identify faces in real time and caption them for patients within seconds. For example, Emma’s Grandma could scan Emma’s face and the app would tell her, “This is Emma, your granddaughter.”
“I hope she can be more engaged with us through the app so she doesn’t have to ask her caregiver who we are all the time,” Emma said.
The app includes a daily calendar of events, and allows family members to post updates and photos that the software can caption with names for the patient. There are even call and text functions that notify a user if they are attempting to repeatedly contact someone—a common issue for some Alzheimer’s patients.
Emma and her Timeless app have gotten lots of attention in recent months. She was recently named one of New York’s “10 Under 20 Young Innovators to Watch,” won the Best Biomimetic Award in the MIT Enterprise Forum “Dream it Code it Win it” contest, and took home the National Grand Prize in the ProjectCSGIRLS competition. She traveled to Washington, D.C., in June for the ProjectCSGirls national gala.
“It was really fun to meet other girls who were also working on cool projects,” she said.
Emma used the money she was awarded from the Michael Perelstein Memorial Discover Your Passion Scholarship to take Biomedical Sciences at CTY Hong Kong this summer. She’ll get to spend some time with her Grandma while she’s in Hong Kong.
After that, she plans to partner with organizations that work with Alzheimer’s patients, and she plans to start beta testing the app on real Alzheimer’s patients by the end of the year.
“My goal is to put it on the app store so it is available for all Alzheimer's patients around the world,” Emma said.—Katy Bowman