Schreyer Scholar and partners code inventive solution at HackPSU 2019

Jeff Rice
April 19, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Muayyad Safri has been participating in hackathons since he arrived on Penn State’s campus in the fall of 2017.

“I would honestly go to the hackathons just to see other people’s projects,” he said. “It’s amazing how these people are able to produce such amazing projects within 24 hours.”

The Schreyer Honors Scholar and College of Engineering student and project teammates Taksh Anand and Michael Maslakowski are responsible for some of those amazing projects themselves, most recently a machine learning project called “Draw Assist” they created during HackPSU 2019, which claimed the event’s top overall prize and also won top honors in the DragonBoard competition during the March 16-17 event in the Business Building.

Safri, Anand, and Maslakowski used a computer numerical control (CNC) controller Maslakowski recently had purchased and assembled to convert human speech into written text via machine language code.

“We thought that was a little too simple,” Safri said, “but when you try to start actually writing it, it’s much harder than it seems.”

Penn State students Taksh Anand, Muayyad Safri and Michael Maslakowski

Left to right: Penn State students Taksh Anand, Muayyad Safri and Michael Maslakowski.

IMAGE: Provided

The team designed the device for potential use by people suffering from Parkinson’s disease, arthritis or other ailments that make putting pen to paper difficult. Users would also be able to print and to record messages with the basic interface system.

“We initially planned on having a secret code imbedded in the text, but to start off as a basic idea, we started with writing words first so that we knew where to go,” Anand said. “And because of the time constraints, we could only do that.”

HackPSU is the University’s largest student-organized event. In addition to the hackathon, students may attend a variety of workshops and network with recruiters and sponsors.

Working under the hackathon’s 24-hour deadline, Safri, Anand, and Maslakowski found a way to convert the audio to text via Google Cloud Platform, then convert that text to G code, which would be passed onto the CNC controller and finally written onto paper via a mechanical arm in a basic Latin, all-caps font. 

“The most challenging part was how to translate the PYTHON code into a G-code format, and how to get that G code onto the CNC controller,” Anand said, “because PYTHON and our CNC controller did not communicate very well.”

The group was inspired to develop a practical solution that could help others. Maslakowski’s aunt suffers from Parkinson’s disease.

“She can’t write cards to any of her relatives anymore,” Maslakowski said. “I think it would be very powerful if you could train (the machine) to do someone else’s handwriting. That way, they could still write cards on their own, in their style, and regain that satisfaction and independence.”

In previous hackathons, the students have worked on an application programming interface (API) that would alert students scheduling classes if they had too much physical ground to cover between buildings between those classes, and another that allowed students and faculty to interact electronically before classes start.

Safri, a computer engineering major from Mumbai, India, who is considering a career in software design, likes the hackathons because they provide opportunities to directly apply the concepts he is learning in his classes, and force participants to do so quickly.

“Computer science is always practical,” Safri said. “You have to think how you’ll get the most work done in the shortest possible time.”

About the Schreyer Honors College

The Schreyer Honors College promotes academic excellence with integrity, the building of a global perspective, and creation of opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. Schreyer Honors Scholars total more than 2,000 students at University Park and 20 Commonwealth Campuses. They represent the top 2 percent of students at Penn State who excel academically and lead on campus.

Last Updated June 21, 2019