Falmouth High Schoolers’ Concussion-Detecting App Wins Congressional Award

Dec 11, 2017

Need a quick test to see whether you have a concussion? There’s an app for that. In fact, it was developed by two Falmouth High School sophomores, who Friday were announced as winners of the 2017 Congressional App Challenge for Maine’s 1st District.

Let’s say you’re playing a pickup game of basketball. You go up strong for a rebound and knock heads with another player, hard. You’re not feeling quite right. You want to keep playing but worry you might have a concussion.

Now you can pull out your smartphone and fire up an app called Headstart, which asks a series of screening questions beginning with, “What year is it?”

“The reason we did that is that the first thing that goes when you get a concussion is critical thinking and awareness of what’s around you,” says co-developer Pawan Yerramilli.

Yerramilli says the screening then tests memorization of color and number sequences as an indicator of short term memory, and then issues a motor skills test.

“We’ll have targets that show up on the screen, and we ask the user to try and tap them one after the other,” he says. “That’s just to test hand-to-eye coordination to make sure that the finger can go where they are looking, because that’s another thing that can go once you have a concussion.”

If you fail the series of tests, the app advises that you seek medical attention.

The screening exercises were developed from criteria outlined by the American Neurological Association. Yerramilli’s project partner, John Wahlig, who came up with the idea for the app, says the team got help from other experts as well.

“Another source of help was my dad, actually — he’s a brain surgeon,” he says. “He went through our app as we were developing it and double-checked the tests, and said, ‘OK, I think this is a good idea.’“

The Headstart app is currently only compatible with Android devices, but Wahlig and Yerramilli say they’re thinking of making an Apple-friendly version as well.

They will both travel to a reception on Capitol Hill in April to be recognized with other winners of the Congressional App Challenge.

This story was originally published Dec. 8, 2917 at 4:47 p.m. ET.