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Microsoft

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."

Photo courtesy of Girls at Work

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via Lewis Speaks Sr. / Facebook

This article originally appeared on 02.25.21


Middle school has to be the most insecure time in a person's life. Kids in their early teens are incredibly cruel and will make fun of each other for not having the right shoes, listening to the right music, or having the right hairstyle.

As if the social pressure wasn't enough, a child that age has to deal with the intensely awkward psychological and biological changes of puberty at the same time.

Jason Smith, the principal of Stonybrook Intermediate and Middle School in Warren Township, Indiana, had a young student sent to his office recently, and his ability to understand his feelings made all the difference.

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All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

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Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

Tragically, Smith’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma too late and paid the ultimate price for it. And she was not an anomaly—though the disease is more common for White patients, Black cancer patients are far more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, causing a notable disparity in survival rates between non-Hispanics whites (90%) and non-Hispanic blacks (66%).

As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

People share experiences with intrusive thoughts.

When I was younger I used to think I was dying or that I would get kidnapped by a random stranger, but I kept it to myself because I thought something was wrong with me. I thought that telling people would confirm this fear, so I kept it inside my entire life until I was an adult and learned it was part of ADHD and other disorders, such as OCD and PTSD. But it doesn't have to be part of a disorder at all—a vast amount of people just have intrusive thoughts, and a Twitter user, Laura Gastón, is trying to normalize them for others.

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Pop Culture

'90s kids share movies that will 'take you back to a better time'

It was a magical time when animals played sports and yet somehow things were just simpler.

YouTube/Upworthy photo illustration

Honey, I shrunk the kid named Matilda while jamming in space!

Everyone knows that '90s movies just hit different. From sports movies to rom-coms to even horror, there was an undeniable innocence, without being overly simplistic or juvenile. They didn’t have nearly the amount of money going into production as they do today, but somehow managed to transport us to magical places.

Movies of the '90s are so iconic that there have been several attempts to reboot beloved titles. Which, let’s face it, tends to be a fool's errand at a cash grab. These movies are so timeless that simply viewing the original is more than fine.

Not sure which movie to start with? You’re in luck—a Reddit user by the name of YouBrokeMyTV asked ’90s kids to share movies that took them “back to a better time,” and because the internet can be a wonderful place, tons of people responded with some beloved classics.

These answers certainly don’t make a definitive list (there are just so, so many gems) but they're a fun glimpse into what made '90s cinema so special. A nostalgic romp through memory lane, if you will.

Enjoy these 14 titles that just might leave you jonesing for a rewatch:

1. "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids"

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A perfect example of how '90s movies were silly, but smart at the same time. And oh so wholesome.

2. "The Sandlot"

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It taught us nothing about baseball, but everything about friendship, rooting for the underdog and (most important) how to make s’mores.

3. "Drop Dead Fred"

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Critics might have run this cult classic through the mud during its inception, but audiences fell in love with the bizarre charm of this story about a mischievous little girl and her anarchist imaginary friend. So take that, snotfaces!

4. "The Goonies"

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Everyone just wanted to set off an epic quest with their friends for pirate treasure after seeing this movie.

5. Tim Burton's "Batman"

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Before the superhero genre was the behemoth it is today, a quirky director and the dude who was best known for playing the creepy demon in "Beetlejuice" breathed new life into comic-book movies. Marvel might be the leader on creating stories with adult themes that are digestible for kids nowadays, but this DC film was the first of its kind. Plus, that soundtrack … forget about it.

6. "Hook"

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Pretty much any '90s film starring Robin Williams was an absolute gem, but this one in particular is timeless. His gift of balancing childlike humor with emotional gravitas lent itself so well to playing the now grown and cynical Peter Pan, who must learn to reclaim his joy (relatable, millennials?). It was a bang-a-rang-er, no question.

7. "Space Jam"

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It had Looney Tunes, it had aliens and it had Michael Jordan. That’s a winning combination.

8. "Matilda"

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I don’t think I’m out of line when I say that this movie helped a lot of kids make their way through difficult childhoods.

9. "The Parent Trap"

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Even '90s reboots were awesome. And how fun it is to see that Lisa Ann Walker—the actress who played Chessy the housekeeper—is not only yet again gracing the screens in NBC’s “Abbott Elementary,” but is also being revered as a style icon on TikTok for her ultra casual looks in the film. We all knew she was onto something with long button downs and shorts.

10. "The Land Before Time"

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No cartoon, not even “The Lion King,” was a better depiction of childhood grief. And yet, despite encapsulating tragedy, director Don Bluth still left viewers hopeful. The subsequent 14 (yes 14) sequels definitely pale in comparison to the original, but "The Land Before Time" continues to stand the test of time nonetheless.

11. "Richie Rich"

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The scene where they play tag on four-wheelers is simply iconic.

12. "Dunston Checks In"

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Man, the '90s were the golden age of animal-centered films. And not just monkeys either—we got sports playing golden retrievers and not one, but two movies starring talking pigs. What a time to be alive. These films were made before CGI had reached the levels it’s at today, and the authentic interactions between humans and creatures reached right through the screen.

13. "George of the Jungle"
george of the jungle, brendan faser

Watch out for the tree!!!

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Have I seen this movie at least 20 times? Probably. It doesn’t get any better than this in terms of silly action films with bird puppets. It’s crazy to think that this role would eventually lead Brendan Fraser to "The Mummy" franchise, turning him into a household name. Though his career has had some tragic ups and downs, we are all grateful for the glorious comeback he’s been having.

14. Anything involving Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen
mary kate and ashley

Yes, they were professional detectives.

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Whether vacationing in London, Paris or Rome, whether playing magical witches or making a huge billboard so their father could find love … Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen offered zany, whimsical entertainment while wearing fun outfits. Sometimes, that’s all you need.