ECU students place second with project at HackNC

East Carolina University students Maria Alexandra Ortiz, left, and Tiffany Nguyen recently placed second overall at HackNC with their application RxTranslate. (Submitted photo)

Understanding the side effects of prescription medicine is not always easy. It can be especially troublesome for those who don’t speak English.

Maria Alexandra Ortiz, a junior software engineering student at East Carolina University, has seen it firsthand with her Spanish-speaking parents.

“My father was taking a prescription that interfered with his blood pressure,” Ortiz said. “My mom didn’t know and my father didn’t know, until I came and checked and it was actually the prescription that was raising his blood pressure with his other medication. Another time, he had an allergic reaction to a prescription he was given. He couldn’t read the prescription, and that’s why I have this concern, but we can prevent it. We can come up with something to help people.”

The solution is RxTranslate, an application Ortiz and ECU senior computer science student Tiffany Nguyen presented during the HackNC 2019 hackathon Oct. 12-13 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. RxTranslate won three prizes at the event — best health hack, best hack empowering minorities and second place overall.

“The intent of the application is to bridge the gap in helping the health literacy of individuals who are limited English proficient,” Nguyen said. “We created an application that can take a picture of a prescription bottle or prescription label. It extracts the text from the image and then translates it into the language that is specified. It will identify the drug and gather information from the web about specific drug interactions or substances that can be harmful if taken with that specific prescription.”

Nguyen, left, and Ortiz enjoy HackNC with other ECU students. (Submitted photo)

Nguyen and Ortiz competed against 96 other projects from students throughout the country at the event.

“We weren’t expecting anything out of it,” Ortiz said. “We saw so many amazing things and amazing innovations, so we weren’t expecting anything, but we did a good job. It was pretty cool. It was an amazing experience.”

Nguyen and Ortiz were among 14 students representing the ECU chapters of Women in Computer Science (WiCS) and Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) at HackNC. Combined, they submitted four projects at the event.

“Everyone worked really hard,” Ortiz said. “They were working overnight trying to get their projects done. Not only us, but the rest of team really did a good job on their own projects.”

Nguyen and Ortiz said more work needs to be done on RxTranslate. They created just a demonstration product for HackNC but see it going further, such as allowing users to input personal medical information such as allergies to guarantee better results.

Members of the Women in Computer Science (WiCS) and Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) organizations represented East Carolina University at HackNC. (Submitted photo)

“We would like to make an actual mobile application and integrate things like machine learning models that better categorize text and better translate text,” Nguyen said. “We would like to use something like augmented reality on the camera screen so it can guide the users on how to take the picture.”

Ortiz and Nguyen said they both came away from the event encouraged about the results of their work.

“I can actually build these solutions to problems that matter to me,” Nguyen said. “I think that’s the beauty of computer science and technology in general.”

HackNC is an annual student-run hackathon in which students spend the weekend inventing, networking and attending various workshops. It is one of the largest hackathons in the Southeast.

— By Ken Buday, University Communications