High-schooler works on life-saving apps

By ERIN JESTER Halifax Media Service

Sarasota, Florida - Published in the Sarasota Herald Tribune: Sunday, September 28, 2014 

GAINESVILLE - While his fellow Eastside High School freshmen here were settling into the grind of a new school year, Amir Helmy spent the second week of September in Maui, where he and his father, Ahmed, won first place at a mobile networking competition for their smartphone app that tracks heart movements.

It is the second app created by the father-son duo that could potentially save lives one day.

Over the summer, the Helmys received the 2014 People's Choice Award from the Epilepsy Foundation and a $75,000 prize for Seizario, their app that uses a smartphone's movement sensor to detect falls in epilepsy patients and alert caregivers.

At the 20th annual International Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking, known as MobiCom and held in Hawaii earlier this month, their heartbeat-tracker app Heartera won first place in the mobile app competition and second place in the start-up pitch contest.

Both apps grew out of ideas that Amir had for science projects while he was a student at Lincoln Middle School.

When he was looking for a project in seventh grade, Amir said, he heard a family friend who is a neurologist talking about putting movement sensors in vests to detect seizures.

Amir thought it would be better to use an everyday device.

With the help of his father, who is an associate professor with the University of Florida College of Engineering, Amir started building software that harnesses the accelerometer sensor inside a smartphone.

The app, Seizario, distinguishes normal movement from movements associated with seizure, and alerts family members or caregivers by email and text message.

"Thankfully, it succeeded," Amir said of the first rounds of testing that he and his father did.

The prize money from the Epilepsy Foundation award will help with more research and working out bugs in the software, but the Helmys will launch an Internet crowdfunding website in the next month or so in hopes of raising enough money for more testing to get the app market-ready.

Heartera was Amir's eighth-grade science project.

Using the same movement sensor, Heartera can be used to track heartbeats per minute, heartbeat pattern and heartbeat intensity.

It's used by placing the smartphone over the heart while lying down, after a few minutes of rest.

Amir said it could be used to help doctors and patients track heart conditions, and possibly to prevent or detect arrhythmia and heart attacks.

He said it will take another six months to a year to work out the kinks in that app, but he hopes to continue developing it.
Ahmed Helmy had to teach his son, who was then just 12 years old, about computer programming so Amir could start developing the apps.

The projects weren't related to Ahmed's research in computer science, but dad said he enjoyed teaching as well as learning some new things.

"It was really invigorating for me," Ahmed said. "Kids, I think, can do so much more than we give them credit for. They can be so creative, and they can give us a lot more ideas."