NTU students develop app to help tackle dementia wandering; wins 2023 Google Solution Challenge
Each member will receive a $3,000 cash prize and mentorship from a Google expert.
Engineers do more than maths and coding – and four NTU Renaissance Engineering Programme students proved just that.
Using the feedback they gathered from interviewing dementia patients and caregivers, they created HeadHome — an app that pairs with a smartwatch to help dementia patients return home if they wander off alone.
HeadHome was also the winning innovation of the 2023 Google Solutions Challenge, where over 2,000 teams used Google technology to solve at least one of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).
Team member Chay Hui Xiang, 23, said that he and his teammates — Ong Jing Xuan, 21; Chang Dao Zheng and Marc Chern, both 23 — had thought of HeadHome long before the competition and had adapted it to tackle two of the UN SDGs, SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being and SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.
He explained that the team wanted to address the problem of dementia wandering after they learnt more about dementia in one of their university modules, and found out that 60 per cent of dementia patients wander off at least once. However, they only developed their idea after they joined the Google Developer Student Clubs (GDSC).
The GDSC, which bands students interested in developer technology together, is also the ticket to entering the GSC. “As aspiring software engineers, we are always on the lookout for hackathons that can provide us with both a platform to learn and to showcase our technical abilities,” shared Hui Xiang.
“Given the scale of GSC, as well as the fact that we already had an idea in mind that could be adapted to tackle the UN Sustainable Development Goals, we decided that this competition was a good fit for us.”
And so, their six-month journey began.
Despite having a headstart, the team still found the project deadline tight. Besides developing HeadHome, they also had to juggle their internships, school work and relationship maintenance, which “heavily limited the amount of time (they could) devote to the project”.
The scale of the project only exacerbated this. Since HeadHome is an app that pairs with a smartwatch, they had to develop both hardware and software solutions. In addition, their app had to be intuitive for many different groups of people.
Team member Dao Zheng said that besides dementia patients and caregivers, they also wanted to involve the community by allowing volunteers to identify and guide dementia patients home.
“HeadHome even includes a business intelligence platform that allows authorities and caregivers to monitor the usage of the application,” he added.
Despite these challenges, Hui Xiang affirms that the team had no conflicts. Working together seamlessly as friends, they had been meticulous when setting their objectives and project timeline.
“Rather than facing the full scale of the problem head-on, we also decided to break down the various prongs of our architecture into smaller pieces and tackle each individual piece separately, one step at a time,” he said.
Their team dynamic was what emboldened the team to choose a tech stack — a set of technologies needed to develop an application — they were unfamiliar with.
“It came in line with our desire to explore the realm of software development and tinker with Google’s suite of technologies,” said Dao Zheng.
“(We knew that) having the opportunity to learn and explore new enterprise-level technologies (that are) heavily utilised by leading corporations around the world (would be) an invaluable experience.”
Although the process was difficult, the team found the experience fulfilling. Other than expanding their skill set by exploring new technologies, they also improved their camaraderie.
“We put in a lot of time and effort into realising HeadHome, and we are grateful that our sacrifices have been recognised by the Google Solution Challenge organising team,” said Hui Xiang. He added that during the process, Google Cloud Authorised Trainer Mark Johnson had also advised them on how to expand their project scope by leveraging various Google Cloud products.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how difficult the development was, said Dao Zheng. What’s more important, however, is that their innovations “can be used as empowerment tools to bring positive change to the community.”