They had 15 hours to come up with an idea that'd improve lives. They did it.

They had 15 hours to come up with an idea for a revolutionary device that would make people's lives better.

And they had to beat out hundreds of other teams that had some of the best student hackers in the world.

"Our first idea was a dancing robot that, like, danced with you if you’re lonely in a dance club," Charlene Xia said with a chuckle.


She and friends Chandani Doshi, Grace Li, Jialin Shi, Bonnie Wang, and Tania Yu were taking part in the MakeMIT hackathon — MIT's premier technology design competition. They and other students were tasked with coming up with a prototype for a new device.

(Left to right) Tania Yu, Charlene Xia, Bonnie Wang, Chandani Doshi, Jialin Shi, and Grace Li. All images via Team Tactile, used with permission.

Xia continued: "Then we moved to a braille watch that we saw a concept model of that somebody posted online. It got us thinking, 'Well, wait a second, is there a thing like a text-to-braille converter? Like it translates and scans images of text on a book and converts it to braille when you move up and down?' We kept googling and nothing came out."

The young inventors began to lay the foundation for Tactile, the world's first real-time text-to-braille converter.

It was a daunting challenge to say the least, but one that these young women, dubbed Team Tactile, were more than ready for.

"The good thing was that our team was very diverse," said Shi. "We have people who studied material science, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and computer science."

Of course, as most projects go, hurdles inevitably popped up. From the hourlong lines at the 3D printer to their code not working properly, it was one heck of a photo finish.

"Basically, nothing came together until the last 15 minutes," added Shi. "That’s when we were finally able to take a picture of some text and finally translate that into some motor movement, which translated into a braille character. It was stressful, but it was definitely one of the highlights of our time here at MIT — that moment when something you make from scratch finally works and your concept is realized."

The current Tactile prototype.

Team Tactile ended up winning first place in the hackathon. But their journey was just getting started.

The team received incredible support and encouragement from the mentors involved with the hackathon — and one mentor, in particular, had a lasting effect.

Paul Parravano is the co-director of MIT's Government and Community Relations office. He's been blind since age 3. He told Team Tactile that their invention could have a huge impact on the visually impaired community, especially since they experience many pain points when it comes to access to information — no more than 5% of books are accessible to them.

Ultimately, providing someone who is visually impaired with the ability to read any book out in the world was too important not to pursue.

"The impact that we could potentially have in the future is really what drove us to continue working as a team," said Wang. "Just working it out despite our problem sets, all the exams, projects and everything, we still keep going and just try to take the prototype as far as we can."

There are already aids on the market, but what sets Tactile apart is its affordability, accuracy, and ability to improve braille literacy.

There are devices such as the B2G, which acts as a mini-laptop for blind people to access information. However, it costs a staggering $2,495. Tactile, on the other hand, could cost as little as $100.

There are other cheaper alternatives, but they're not necessarily as effective. "For instance, there’s an app that lets you take pictures of printed text and then it turns to audio," said Li. "As you can imagine, this is not applicable for every situation. It’s also less accurate."

But the ability to read instead of having something read back to you is where the biggest difference lies. The team noted that braille literacy is very low right now — in fact, less than 10% of the 1.3 million legally blind people in the U.S. are braille readers. Tactile could help change that.

A rendering of Team Tactile's vision for their revolutionary invention.

"An audio translator won't be able to translate all the mathematical signs and symbols," said Shi. "There’s also everyday life — something as simple as reading packaging labels and just knowing your surroundings. Not [having to ask] for help for every little thing."

There's nothing stopping these badasses.

Right now, the team is still working to refine Tactile to make sure it's as efficient and affordable as possible. After graduation, they plan to work on it full time, and they have their sights set on getting this invention into the hands of all those who truly need it — whether in the U.S. or in the developing world.

Added Wang, "Ideally ... one day, every visually impaired person will have a Tactile device — something that they carry around with them every day and use on a daily basis to access the information around them."

Team Tactile's invention is so promising that they were selected to be a part of Microsoft's #MakeWhatsNext Patent Program.

The program focuses on two things: helping young female inventors navigate the legal hurdles that come with securing patents and empowering young women to bridge the gender gap in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).

"They really helped us take the stress away from the patent process and allowed us to focus on the technology — the part that we're passionate about developing," said Wang.

Tactile is a great example of the type of life-changing innovation that can come from technology, and Microsoft is committed to ensuring that everyone — especially young girls — has access to computer science education resources so they, too, can unlock the power to create with technology.

"Why is that the case when you think of patents, you don't think of women inventors?" wondered Xia. "Right now, there's a movement towards building this community of women engineers and inventors, and we're really happy and honored to be part of this movement and contribute as much as we can to make sure this movement continues and grows."

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Photo by Gregory Hayes on Unsplash

"Can I buy you a drink?" is a loaded question.

It could be an innocent request from someone who's interested in having a cordial conversation. Other time, saying "yes" means you may have to fend off someone who feels entitled to spend the rest of the night with you.

In the worst-case scenario, someone is trying to take advantage of you or has a roofie in their pocket.

Feminist blogger Jennifer Dziura found a fool-proof way to stay safe while understanding someone's intentions: ask for a non-alcoholic beverage or food. If they're sincerely interested in spending some time getting to know you, they won't mind buying something booze-free.

RELATED: States are starting to require mental health classes for all students. It's about dang time.

But if it's their intention to lower your defenses, they'll throw a mild tantrum after you refuse the booze. Her thoughts on the "Can I buy you a drink?" conundrum made their way to Tumblr.

via AshleysCo / Tumblr


via AshleysCo / Tumblr

The posts caught the attention of a bartender who knows there are lot of men out there whose sole intention is to get somone drunk to take advantage.

"Most of the time, when someone you don't know is buying you a drink, they're NOT doing it out of a sense of cordiality," the bartender wrote. "They're buying you a drink for the sole purpose of making you let your guard down."

So they shared a few tips on how to be safe and social when someone asks to buy you a drink.

From the other side of the bar, I see this crap all the time. Seriously. I work at a high-density bar, and let me tell you, I have anywhere from 10-20 guys every night come up and tell me to, "serve her a stronger drink, I'm trying to get lucky tonight, know what I mean?" usually accompanied with a wink and a gesture at a girl who, in my experience, is going to go from mildly buzzed to definitively hammered if I keep serving her. Now, I like to think I'm a responsible bartender, so I usually tell guys like that to piss off, and, if I can, try to tell the girl's more sober friends that they need to keep an eye on her.
But everyone- just so you know, most of the time, when someone you don't know is buying you a drink, they're NOT doing it out of a sense of cordiality, they're buying you a drink for the sole purpose of making you let your guard down.

Tips for getting drinks-

1. ALWAYS GO TO THE BAR TO GET YOUR OWN DRINK, DO NOT LET STRANGERS CARRY YOUR DRINKS. This is an opportune time for dropping something into your cocktail, and you're none the wiser.

2.IF YOU ORDER SOMETHING NON-ALCOHOLIC, I promise you, the bartender doesn't give two shits that you're not drinking cocktails with your friends, and often, totally understands that you don't want to let your guard down around strangers. Usually, you can just tell the bartender that you'd like something light, and that's a big clue to us that you're uncomfortable with whomever you're standing next to. Again, we see this all the time.

3. If you're in a position to where you feel uncomfortable not ordering alcohol:
Here's a list of light liquors, and mixers that won't get you drunk, and will still look like an actual cocktail:

X-rated + sprite = easy to drink, sweet, and 12% alcoholic content. Not strong at all, usually runs $6-$8, depending on your state.
Amaretto + sour= sweet, not strong, 26%.
Peach Schnapps+ ginger ale= tastes like mellow butterscotch, 24%.
Melon liquor (Midori, in most bars) + soda water = not overly sweet, 21%
Coffee liquor (Kahlua) +soda = not super sweet, 20%.
Hope this helps someone out!

RELATED: Permit denied for 'straight pride' parade in California

If you do accept a drink from someone at a bar and you want to talk, there's no need to feel obligated to spend the rest of the night with them.

Jaqueline Whitmore, founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach, says to be polite you only have to "Engage in some friendly chit-chat, but you are not obligated to do more than that."

If someone asks to buy you a drink and you don't want it, Whitmore has a great tip. "Say thank you, but you are trying to cut back, have to drive or you don't accept drinks from strangers," Whitmore says.

What if they've already sent the drink over? "Give the drink to the bartender and tell him or her to enjoy it," Whitmore says.

Have fun. Stay safe, and make sure to bring a great wing-man or wing-woman with you.

Well Being

There are reasonable arguments to be had on all sides of America's debates about guns.

Then there are NRA lobbyists.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Florida National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer spoke to state economists last week to explain why a proposed assault weapons ban would devastate gun manufacturers in the state. The proposed amendment, which is being led by the aunt of a student killed in the Parkland school shooting, would ban the future sale of assault rifles in Florida and mandate that current owners either register their guns with the state or give them up.

The back and forth between those proposing and opposing the amendment appears to be a pretty typical gun legislation debate. Only this time, the NRA lobbyist pulled out one of the most bizarre arguments I've seen yet.

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Democracy


Rep. Peter King (R-NY) is a name you should remember. If you don't follow politics closely, remember his name because he's the first Republican in Congress to openly join the call for a renewed federal ban on assault weapons.

If you're a Democrat or a diehard progressive partisan, remember his name because it's proof that as a nation we can put principles before party and walk across the political aisle to get things done.

If you're a Republican, remember his name as evidence that real leadership in politics sometimes means risking your reputation to do what is right even when most of your colleagues disagree or lack the political courage to go first.

But let's allow Rep. King to explain himself in his own words:

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Democracy
via PixaBay

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang has brought a lot of attention to the idea of implementing a universal basic income on America. His "freedom dividend" would pay every American $1,000 a month to spend as they choose.

In addition to helping Americans deal with a future in which the labor market will be upended by automation, this basic income could allow Americans to rethink what we see as work and nurture what Yang calls a "human-centered" economy.

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