Written By: Maryam Razzaq
An interview with the team "TAME" from NUST which won the first place in Stanford Longevity Design Challenge 2017.
As we went on the stage and took out the Pakistani flag everyone just stood up from their place and clapped for us. It was a moment that filled our hearts with indescribable love and respect for our country. The world acknowledged our success as we proved to them that innovation is not limited to a geographic region.
Acceptance to divine’s will is a tool of contentment. While contentment brings happiness and acceptance to life, the same also halts the very endeavor and struggle one makes to change and improve the current situation. The case of elderly persons with physical impairment like tremors is an example where society has widely accepted their condition with no recourse to treat and cure.
Amazingly, a group of students from NUST has embarked upon a project to develop and introduce a device called TAME-Tremor Acquisition and Minimization which seeks to develop wearable technology for the suppression of real-time pathological tremors without hindering the voluntary movement of the patient.
The students Arsalan Javed, Awais Shafiq and Hooriya Anum not only qualified to present their project at Stanford Longevity Design Challenge 2017, held in Stanford University California but they also won the competition defeating the world’s top universities including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cornell University, Virginia Tech, University of Sao Paulo, Beijing University and Stanford University itself . Their achievement of raising our national flag at such a prestigious platform filled every Pakistani’s heart with pride.
The initiative and the progress made by this group of young students so far has to be shared with different segments of society to provoke their thoughts and invite the assistance they can offer to the group to materialize their project. Therefore Hilal arranged an interview with the group and salient of discussion are as under.
Q. Firstly can you explain to the readers what your project was about?
Hilal’s readers may have an idea about tremors. It’s a human body disorder which involves unintentional, involuntary, rhythmic muscle movement including to-and-fro movements (oscillations) of one or more parts of the body commonly affecting the movement of hands, arms, head, face, voice, trunk, and legs. The tremor of hands is especially the most disabling one. So, what we created as our Final Year Project (FYP) is a device called TAME-Tremor Acquisition and Minimization. It is a wearable device which seeks to diagnose and suppress the involuntary movement of the muscles thus controlling pathological tremors.
Q. When did you start working on this project and what was the motivation behind it?
We started this project back in December 2015 as our FYP and what motivated us was that we could relate to it at a personal level as we actually saw this particular disease of tremors in our families and friends leading them to struggle with the basic daily tasks. And thus we wanted to find an engineering-based solution for the disease.
Q. Tell us something about your journey from NUST to Stanford Longevity Design Challenge?
Awais: It has been a long journey as research and innovation take their time. During our graduation we didn’t expect much from our project since being engineering students we had little knowledge of medicines but what we had in mind was that we wanted to make a difference. We wanted to use our engineering knowledge to help the people who couldn’t do their basic tasks. With that motivation in mind we did what we could. And Alhamdulillah we came up with a minimal viable product which we tested in Fauji Foundation Hospital on a couple of patients. And Stanford Longevity Design Challenge was a perfect fit for us because the whole theme and purpose of it was to optimize the lives of human beings.
Hooriya: The journey from our final year project in graduation till now has literally been a roller coaster ride because we have faced a lot of difficulties to be able to make this bio-medical device; from finding enough research on it to practically making and experimenting it, keeping the limits in mind. The journey was never easy but Alhamdulillah our work and persistence paid off.
Arsalan: More than anything this has truly been a great learning experience. Today, we are entirely different people than what we were one-and-a-half-year ago. This journey has not only made us better engineers but also better people.
Q. What was it like to be winning against the world’s top universities including the very prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cornell University, Virginia Tech, University of Sao Paulo, Beijing University and Stanford University itself?
Arsalan: No doubt the challenge was really daunting because it wasn’t like some of the top, but the top universities of the world were competing against us. We took it as an exciting challenge.
Hooriya: I would say we were quite anxious. It was interesting; the teams were very confident as some of them had their products ready while others had their research to share. The only thing that kept us going was that we had to represent Pakistan and pay back to the country what it has given us.
Awais: Just the feeling itself of being at such a prestigious institute and competing against the world’s top universities was something I can’t really put into words. And I think this never could have been possible without my team. Our prime objective at that time was not as much to win but to represent our country in the best possible way. We were nervous standing next to the top ranked universities and when our name was called as the winners, we were definitely overjoyed.
Winner of Stanford Longevity Design Challenge –Team "TAME" from NUST meets COAS
NUST students who bagged the first position at Stanford Longevity Design Challenge held in California, USA on March 30, 2017, met Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa in GHQ. 20 countries participated in the competition. The theme for participants was to focus on improving the quality of life for individuals ageing in their homes. 3-member NUST team comprising of Awais Shafiq, Hooriya Anam and Arslan Javed was selected to top 9 teams from different universities across the world by a panel of judges of industries from Silicon Valley. NUST team designed Tremor Acquisition and Minimization (TAME) and defeated MIT, Virginia Technology, Stanford, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Waterloo, Canada, Cornell, California, Berkeley and Beijing universities in final stage held at Stanford University. TAME is a wearable device for real time pathological wrist tremor suppression to enable tremor patients perform their routine task without assistance. COAS congratulated the team on this outstanding achievement. "Our youth is our asset and we are proud of their achievement for keeping the green flag high", COAS emphasized.
Q. Watching you on TV surely filled our hearts with pride; how did you feel, holding and waving our national flag at such a prestigious platform?
As we went on the stage and took out the Pakistani flag, everyone stood up from their place and clapped for us. It was a moment that filled our hearts with indescribable love and respect for our country. The world acknowledged our success as we proved to them that innovation is not limited to a geographic region. We knew at that very moment that it wasn’t just us who had won but Pakistan had won. We had won for the country which enabled us to be who we were today, it was for the nation that supported us, it was for the institute that opened avenues for us, it was for the teachers who instilled knowledge in us, and it was for all those people who invested in us.
Q. How has your experience been at NUST?
Arsalan: It might sound cheesy but NUST is the best thing that has ever happened to me. There is so much to learn over here. You get exposed to not only a lot of research but the environment that NUST provides helps you to interact at international level.
Hooriya: I will second Arsalan’s opinion that NUST exposed us to international platforms and different avenues. Not only it has helped us academically but also has groomed us to be the people that we are today.
Awais: Well, apart from the study point of view it is absolutely true that whatever I am today is because of this prestigious institute. The ability to present at a platform like Stanford and the confidence to deliver among the tech leaders has all come from this university.
Q. What would you like to say about the faculty and your supervisor?
We went with the idea of TAME to Dr. Raza Kazmi who was very supportive and we couldn’t have done this without him. He is the one who connected us to the Fauji Foundation Hospital and there in Foundation University Islamabad we met Dr. Khalid, Dr. Tassawur Hussain, Dr. Rabiya and Dr. Saira. Dr Khalid and Dr. Tassawur are like celebrity doctors. And I think it is because of them that we were able to expedite the Ethical Committee review which gave us access to the patients.
Q. Are you satisfied with your final project or would you like to further improve it?
TAME for now is in the prototype phase. Although the minimal viable device that we have made has been widely accepted, the final product still needs to be made and launched in the market. So we are working on it constantly.
Secondly, as we are satisfied with our project, our main focus is to make it affordable for all the tremor patients. So we are already working to further improve it.
Q. You must have received offers from various companies for assisting you in materializing your project and converting the TAME prototype into an actual product. So, how do you plan to do that?
Well we certainly have gotten a lot of offers from big names but one of the problems in Pakistan is that people like to play it safe. They prefer to invest in software because it gives you a lot of return. For hardware you actually need a lot of money to make something. And since this is specifically a bio-medical project, there is limited capital, limited resources and limited mentorship available for taking it to the next level.
After the graduation we received multiple job offers which we rejected as we wanted to further work on our project to convert it from prototype to a real time device available in the market. This device can certainly be made in Pakistan but due to limited resources the time span to actualize it and bring it to the market will be relatively long. We have actually been offered sponsorship from abroad so let’s see.
Q. What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome to get your project completed?
Hooriya: The biggest challenge for me I guess was getting the Ethical approvals. Also, even after having made the device and setting its algorithm and everything, one cannot be sure if it will function unless it is tested upon a human patient.
Arsalan: I think I’d second Hooriya that the biggest challenge in our way was to get the Ethical approval and then test the device on patients.
Awais: The biggest challenge for me I’d say was to actually make the device.
Q. Did you have several ideas for your project or TAME was the one you settled on straight away?
Well we can go on and on about this. This team has been together for more than three years and we have done a lot of projects together. The focus has always been on learning, we have won quite a few competitions before TAME, of which some were in healthcare and other in counter-terrorism department. We were initially confused whether to pursue TAME as our FYP as it was to be a bio-medical product and we had little or no medical knowledge. But like we said we could relate to the tremor disease and thus we finally settled on TAME.
Q. Is TAME, the wearable device for controlling pathological tremors one of its kind and how effective is it to practically control tremors?
There is no product currently in the market for suppressing tremors and as we progressed along, there were certain prototypes that were using different techniques but then again they are still in the prototype phase. However, we must point out that just a small amount of research has been done on this particular technique for this particular disease. But there is no such product in the market.
And well the prototype that we used to experiment on tremor patients in Fauji Foundation Hospital yielded us positive results. And in many cases we could actually see the visual suppression of the tremors while in all of the cases we could actually see the tremor patients successfully performing their everyday tasks. So, if we consider the ability of the patients to overcome tremors the merit of success, then we can say that our project has been successful and effective.
Q. When can the world expect this miraculous prototype to develop into a product and be available in the market?
Actually we are working on a bio-medical product and the problem attached is that before bringing it into the market and getting it approved for different standard testing, we have to generate a specific dataset i.e., we have to test it on say three hundred patients and once the results are found positive only then we can get it approved and certified by the standard testing authorities in Pakistan. Right now we can’t say the exact time it will take to bring this product to market but hopefully soon.
Q. 100,000 U.S. Dollars is a big amount, have you planned on how to spend this huge prize money?
It was our prize money and not a research grant so on a lighter note we could do whatever we want. But as a matter of fact as we have this money, we are going to use it to the advantage of our project just as we have done with prize money before.
Q. What advice would you give to students who aspire to achieve big for the country like you have?
Arsalan: Well, I personally believe that though we belong to a developing country, we have no dearth of talent. Given the right environment and the right opportunities we can and we will take the world by storm. The only message I would give to all the Pakistanis out there is that don’t stop trying. Don’t be daunted by a task which seems impossible and just go for it. Well as Hooriya says, what’s the worst that can happen?
Hooriya: Yeah well that was my message, thanks for copying it Arsalan (chuckles). My message would especially be to the girls that don’t shy away from opportunities because you can achieve everything as big as your male counterparts could or even better since you can be more persistent than the guys (chuckles). And to the parents I would especially request to let their daughters choose the field they’d like to join. Girls can be engineers, too.
Awais: While these two people sitting beside me are brilliant students, I have always been an average student but with that I have also been sincere to myself. I try to learn what is being taught to me. I try to polish my practical skills although I am not that focused on the theoretical part of the degree but I believe that I am a good engineer because I can practically apply my skills and learning into real world problems. And to the students I’d say that we often complain that there are a lot of problems in Pakistan but what we need to realize is that these problems are opportunities for us that only need to be recognized. So yeah, dream big and do your best to materialize it.