Skip to main content

Technical Report From The Port Hackathon

1. About the challenge

The Port is a Swiss non-profit association cooperating with CERN, whose mission is to bridge NGOs with scientific and technological sectors. Their flagship event is the yearly hackathon during which interdisciplinary teams come together to work on solutions to selected humanitarian challenges.

The challenge assigned to the team Pier23 – Spes Spirae was to develop a wearable device for monitoring symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. The work on the idea started with a kick-off meeting on the 7th of September. Following this, the team worked remotely on developing the concept of the wearable up until the main event, which took place in Geneva between 6th and 8th of October 2017.

2. Problem statement

Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a progressive degenerative disease of the central nervous system that causes motor-impairment symptoms. One of the symptoms observed in case of almost 80% of patients is resting tremor (involuntary hand shaking movement with a frequency of 4-8 Hz). Another cardinal symptom is the slowness of movement, that can be detected by precise neurological tests, such hand gripping or finger tapping. Due to the slow course of the disease, it is difficult for a patient to objectively track symptoms accurately.

In addition, people affected by PD see their doctors 3-4 times per year. As a result, it is often difficult for the patient and neurologist to describe the trend of the symptoms during a long period of time. Moreover, while the visit to the doctor lasts about 30 minutes, the therapy has to take into account the symptoms throughout the whole day. This is a problem since doctors can be misled by the state of the patient at the moment of the neurological examination, and in addition, the patient’s condition may be affected by the very presence of the doctor. The device Spes Spirae focused on developing during the hackathon aims to address these issues, providing continuous and accurate measurements of PD symptoms.

3. Market Analysis

In order to design a device that both addresses the needs of PD patients and is not already available in the market, Spes Spirae conducted a two-fold market analysis:

  1. Current market – Research for similar devices were made in order to fill gaps in the current offers. The results of the market analysis indicate a niche in smart wearables capable of precise tracking of tremor, being affordable and at the same time easy to be handled by elderly people, having long-lasting battery life and capable of storing multiple days’ worth of measurements.
  2. Questionnaire – In order to design a user-oriented device, Spes Spirae prepared an anonymous questionnaire that was shared in PD forums in three languages (English, Italian and Greek). In the form the team was able to reach 96 patients living with PD. Only 3 of those patients were using a wearable device to monitor their symptoms. It was also found that only 12% of the patients that answered the form never forget to take their medicine, making a potential pill-reminder function on a wearable device welcome.

In addition to the points above, the team established contacts with hospitals with the view of obtaining input and organizing a future clinical test.

4. The Port Hackathon – results

During the hackathon Spes Spirae delivered the following:

  1. A wearable device capable of monitoring accelerations, angular rates and magnetic inclination in 3 axes with an SD card for storing data from those sensors
  2. A doctor’s dashboard for storing patients’ data and having built-in unified Parkinson’s disease rating scale (UPDRS)
  3. Multiple datasets for both a person with PD and a healthy person
  4. A questionnaire in English, Italian and Greek for PD patients

4.1 Wearable device

For the tremor monitoring a SparkFun 9DoF Razor IMU M0 prototyping board with an SD card and MPU-9250 Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) capable of outputting information on acceleration, rotation rate and magnetic inclination was used for capturing the raw data.

Additional development was performed to add a single button functionality to a device and a time synchronization over a serial connection in order to synchronize time between a docking station and the device.

Using a 250mAh battery it was possible to capture 7-12 hours of data on a single battery charge. The battery life will be significantly improved by using low power components in future designs.

As a part of prototyping a real time data capture and visualization through a serial port was developed and showcased during the closing ceremony.

4.2 Doctor’s dashboard

The Doctor’s dashboard showcased during THE Port Hackathon was based on Vue Paper Dashboard project. The dashboard has several features, for instance, it allows the doctor to inspect data of individual patients within the desired time window. It also contains a built-in unified Parkinson’s disease rating scale (UPDRS) questionnaire, which is a standard set of questions which can be used to compare the patient’s condition with existing data worldwide.

4.3 Datasets and data analysis

During the hackathon multiple datasets for both a healthy person (“Kitti”) and a person with PD (“Lars”) were captured. The FFT analysis performed on datasets allow for a clear distinction between tremor data:

Comparison of tremor data between PD patient and a healhty person

In the data captured it was noticed that the tremors are mostly visible when analyzing angular velocities obtained from a 3-axis gyroscope. The image below shows the comparison of such data.

Another comparison of tremor logging in 3 axes using a gyroscope

The Port hackathon – first impressions

Teams During The Port hackathon

Below you can find the first impression on The Port hackathon by Mateusz, one of our members. The post was taken from his blog.

The Port Hackathon

The Port is a Swiss non-profit association cooperating with CERN, whose mission is to bridge NGOs with scientific and technological sectors. Their flagship event is the yearly hackathon during which interdisciplinary teams come together to work on solutions to selected humanitarian challenges.

This year The Port hosted 7 teams that spent 60 hours at the CERN idea square working on their concepts and prototypes.

You can find the final presentations from all teams here (our team starts at 38:30).

Contrary to most hackathons The Port Hackathon starts way before participants start hacking. For example, my team started brainstorming in September (the event took place 6th-8th of October). Speaking of my team…

Spes Spirae

Spes Spirae on stage
Most of our team during final presentations


I was very fortunate to meet and work with all the people in my team (both those who made it to Geneva and those who supported us remotely). Even though we came from different backgrounds and even continents we “clicked”.

Everyone just knew what to do, we had the same ideas in our heads and we managed to spend with each other over 50 hours without having any problems or conflicts. And the best part? We came to the idea square as total strangers and left as very good friends.

Our challenge

In the above video you can see Lars, who immensely helped us during the hackathon, introducing the motivation behind our challenge. Our goal is to develop a wearable tracker with following objectives:

  • Device should be cheap
  • All the developed code and designs should be made open source
  • Anonymised data from the device should be made openly available if the patient consents to it
  • The device should be as simple to use as possible
  • Battery life longer than 7 days

During the 3 working days we focused on the following areas:

  • Data analysis
  • Market research
  • Doctor’s dashboard
  • Hardware for data capture


Below you can find a video showing Lars’ tremor in real time. You can also clearly see ‘spikes’ when Lars performs tapping or hand grabbing exercises.

Here are couple of things (in no particular order) that I learned during the challenge:

  • 1 in 60 Parkinson’s patients are using any monitoring device
  • 1 in 60 patients would not agree to share the data from the monitoring device to boost scientific research
  • When taking part in hackathon always start with simplest prototype you can and build on top of that
  • serialplot rocks!
  • At around 35 hour mark of almost non-stop work your brain might start giving up making it very difficult to focus
  • A software that can take data over serial and make FFT (Fast Fourier Transform) in almost real time would be highly appreciated (need to look into it at some point)

The way forward

We are all in agreement that it would be a great idea to take this project forward. I’m certain I stumbled upon the side project of the century. The fact that it might help people makes it even more exciting.

In the upcoming days I hope we that in the upcoming days we can design the architecture of the watch itself and start coding.

Stay tuned for more info! If you would like to get involved then you can start with our github.

People overestimate what they can do in a day but underestimate what they can do in a year. – Spes Spirae