Talking tech since 2003

Back in November I was fortunate enough to be invited to Israel for a few days to meet with various startups, venture capital firms, and people. It was such an amazing trip as I have already documented in some posts I’ve published to date. But today, I’m writing about a special event I had the pleasure to attend while on my trip.

The award ceremony at TOM:ISRAEL.
The award ceremony at TOM:ISRAEL.

The event, which was hosted in northern Israel, in the Galilee, is called TOM (Tikkun Olam Makers) and it’s part of this global initiative where people with different backgrounds and expertise get together for a 72-hour “hackathon” and build a product to help someone in need. The person who the team is helping is called the “need knower.” As you can imagine, there are lots of people in the world who face challenges every day and could benefit from being part of a TOM hackathon. In order to become a “need knower” at a TOM event you must submit an application, which is then reviewed.

If your application is selected, a team of volunteer experts is assigned to you to solve some of the major challenges you face in your life. The experts range in skill sets, from engineering to design backgrounds and they all volunteer to come together to build a product or products to help this person.

It’s truly incredible to witness.

At the TOM event I attended, there were some truly incredible things being built by about 150 volunteers. One need knower lost his fingers and was unable to ride a bike anymore because he couldn’t reach the brakes to apply them. So his team came up with a way to modify a bike so he could apply the brakes. This may seem minor, but it really makes all the difference in the world, and really, this type of modification could be done for more people who face similar challenges around the world.

In fact, I got to witness the first time the need knower got a chance to test out his brand new bike — he was ecstatic. Watching him ride around the parking lot (quite fast I may add) and then able to stop using the newly modified breaks was a joy to see.

Another team developed a scale for people who can’t stand on their own, such as people with muscular dystrophy. Imagine being wheel chair bound or bedridden and not being able to weigh yourself? These are things most people take for granted. The team came up with a alternative to a traditional scale you stand on, this one you could sit/lie on, and it’s based on a mattress. The mattress is integrated into the patient’s bed and using a sensor, it measures the air pressure on the mattress. Super smart.

Easy Scan was developed at TOM:ISRAEL.
Easy Scan was developed at TOM:ISRAEL.

There were so many teams there. All of which were working on some very cool things, including a product to get wheel chairs into car trunks easier and even a product to make it easier for a need knower to be able to complete tasks at work on their own, such as scanning and copying documents — something that this person required assistance with prior to the TOM event.

At the end of the 72-hour hackathon, each team presented their product to a panel of judges who then selected a handful of winners. The team who the judges believe have created the best product are awarded with the intention that the team will be able to bring the product past a prototype stage and turn it into something that can be more widely used.

Additionally, it’s definitely worth mentioning that projects developed at TOM events are made publicly available under an open-source license (like Android and Arduino are), meaning that anyone with access to some tools and knowledge (or the willingness to learn) can recreate and customize the solutions at very low cost.

TOM events are happening all across the world, the next one scheduled is taking place in Buenos Aires. You can sign up to volunteer and/or attend a local TOM event on their site. Additionally, if you’re interested in hosting one in your city you can get in touch with them to do that as well.

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