Tyler Sklüzacek ’16, in his debut coding competition, won first place in creating the “Best App for Clinicians” at the HackDC competition on September 25–27. The thirty-six hour coding challenge sent competitors on a specific mission: to design the best mobile app to treat veterans with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
“I was investigating different coding competitions and hackathons to enter and I always wanted to travel to the East Coast, plus I had a specific interest in working on veterans’ issues because my dad is in the U.S. Army and has/had PTSD, so when I found this competition it felt like the perfect fit,” Sklüzacek said.
Sklüzacek, along with his four team members, all of whom he met at the competition, created myBivy, an app designed to help veterans and their clinicians predict and identify night terrors, a common symptom of PTSD. Night terrors can seriously disturb or disrupt sleeping patterns, causing those with them to suddenly wake up in the night or feel great fear and unease. The app’s name, “Bivy,” comes from military slang used to describe a super-durable sleeping bag.
“There was a psychiatrist from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on hand at the competition that guided us and really pushed us to focus on one specific thing,” Sklüzacek said. “Presumably it’s just a bunch of people coming into the competition with coding experience trying to create an app for PTSD, but we don’t know about the medical or social side of things, so it was beneficial to have veterans and clinicians help us and direct us towards their needs.”
The app currently connects Android software with a smartwatch to track sleep data through the client’s heart rate and body movement. With this data, both veterans and clinicians can analyze the veteran’s sleep patterns, including the data on when their night terrors occurred.
The app generates a layman’s version of this data so that the veteran can interpret it themselves in the morning on their smartphone, and a detailed version is automatically sent to the VA, so clinicians can better analyze and treat each veteran’s night terrors.
Eventually, the app’s goal would be to stop these night terrors from occurring altogether. Ideally, after clinical trials, the smartwatch would continue to track and record heart rate and movement, but it would recognize the pattern of when a night terror is about to occur and send a buzz to a person’s watch in time to pull them out of their bad state.
“It is definitely a balance. We don’t want to pull the person out of their sleep completely or purposely wake them up, but ideally we would prevent them from experiencing the night terror,” Sklüzacek said.
Sklüzacek and his team continue to work on the project, and believe in its widespread potential to help veterans address PTSD. They meet via Google hangout, and all continue to code for the app. Their goal is to to launch the app across a variety of software and platforms by winter break. This involves expanding from Android to include Apple Watch and iOS, and other smart watches. In order to gather materials needed for clinical trials and testing, his group plans to start a kickstarter campaign within the week.
“Right now it’s important for us to raise capital, so we can run trials with different devices and meet with VAs across the country who are interested in the app and interested in working with us,” Sklüzacek said.
Accessibility is also a priority. Currently, the veteran needs a smartwatch and an Android device in order to track their night terror sleep data. One of the cheapest smartwatch models on the market is the Pebble Smartwatch, which sponsored the competition and was the model Sklüzacek and his team designed the app with originally, but even this model costs about $100.
“Part of the grand scheme is that we want this to be really big, and we want the VA to start supplying these things for veterans to help them treat their PTSD,” Sklüzacek said.
The computer science, economics, applied math and statistics triple major admits he only seriously started coding last year, but isn’t planning on attending any additional hackathons in the near future.
“Right now I am really invested in this project and I want to see how far it can go, before I start going to more hackathons and working on other side projects,” Sklüzacek said. “I am, however, gearing up for Macathon.”
The prize for winning the 200 person competition was $1,500 to be split among Sklüzacek’s five person team. After making myBivy available to veterans, Sklüzacek would love to see the app used by people in the general population who have PTSD.
“We want to make it accessible to everyone. Yes, veterans do account for a lot of the PTSD, but you don’t have to be in the army to have PTSD,” Sklüzacek said.