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Middle school tech team in Fort Mill designs award-winning app

Banks Trail students explain their new app, HearingHelper

A team of eighth-graders from Banks Trail Middle School earned Best In State honors in the Verizon App Challenge for their app, HearingHelper. They explain it in this video
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A team of eighth-graders from Banks Trail Middle School earned Best In State honors in the Verizon App Challenge for their app, HearingHelper. They explain it in this video

A concept for a new app created by a team of eighth-graders from Banks Trail Middle School earned Best In State honors in the Verizon App Challenge and is now in the running for national awards.

A national, Fan Favorite competition is decided by online voting and judges will select a Best in Nation winner.

Teams were tasked with conceptualizing and designing an app to help solve a problem or address an issue in the community. Banks Trail students Kate Kaminsky, Ella Fowle, Trisha Mynampati, Jaime Esposito came up with a way to assist hearing impaired people. Their app, HearingHelper, is an easy-to-use translator and mobile hearing aid.

Using the example of someone who would otherwise miss an important announcement in a public place, say a train station, airport, or school building, the students’ app would alert the user that an announcement has been made. HearingHelper works with a vibrating wristband that alerts the user when the app senses a change in decibel levels when an announcement is made over a public address system. The user would then check his or her phone, where the HearingHelper has auto-generated text from the announcement.

HearingHelper could also be used in the classroom to help hearing-impaired students keep up with teachers when certain information is verbalized, the students said.

The students chose to focus their app for people who are hearing impaired because there wasn't an app like it on the market, Fowle said.

“There is braille that helps blind people read, but nothing like this that helps people who can't hear," she said. "Braille is accessible and easy to use just like HearingHelper.”

Another use for the app could be in the classroom.

“HearingHelper could be put to use by schools that have deaf students, allowing them to participate in regular classes with their peers,” Esposito said. “Using the same decibel level detection, the app would pick up a teacher's speech and translate to text on a device.”

HearingHelper could also help make travel more manageable for the deaf or hearing impaired, Mynampati pointed out.

“Every day schedules and tasks will become more attainable and be approached with less anxiety. HearingHelper would be a life changing resource,” she said.

Kaminsky said the app is designed for real life situations and people.

“The HearingHelper app considers how life moves and operates in real time and relies on mobile technology,” she said. “Our app would connect to a smart watch, smart phone, or other device to deliver information even when a person is on the go.”

The students had to sketch out a prototype, write an essay and create a short video describing their app to submit with their entry.

“Hearing disabilities are one of the hardest disabilities to live with, whether it is something you are born with or something you acquire over time,” according to the Banks Trail students’ essay.

The team from Banks Trail earned $5,000 that can be donated to the school or used for a nonprofit group/club program. Each team member will receive a tablet. According to the contest website, “Best in Nation and Fan Favorite teams receive an additional $15,000 award for their school or nonprofit group/club, in-person coding training from MIT experts, and an all-expenses-paid trip to the National TSA Conference for each team member and a parent/guardian in the summer.”

MIT will also instruct and help the winning team develop its app.

Voting for the national Fan Favorite award is underway at appchallenge.tsaweb.org.

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