Innovators of Tomorrow—Peter Ma

In this episode we talk to Peter Ma about his history with hackathons, his incredible winning streak, and the projects that have been inspired by these events including Anti-Snoozer, Vehicle Rear Vision, and Doctor Hazel. 

Welcome to Innovators of Tomorrow. I'm your host, Wendy Boswell, here to bring you the sights, sounds, and inspirational work from developers and our innovator community from around the globe. Today, we are talking to Intel Software innovator, Peter Ma, about his history with hackathons, his incredible winning streak, and the projects that have been inspired by these events. Let's get this started. 


Welcome to the show Peter, and thanks for joining us today. So in addition to being an Intel Software innovator, you're also a professional hackathon competitor. Can you tell us about what got you into a hackathons and how you manage to do so well at them? 

So thanks for having me out, Wendy. I think everything started as a kid, that I've always been intrigued by new technologies. My very first developer challenge was sponsored by [INAUDIBLE] Conference. So after winning that, I was able to give a TEDtalk at TED Global 2010. And that really inspired me to compete more and build out more prototypes. 

I think I do well in most hackathons because I focus mostly on how technologies can better people's lives than what technologies can do. 

So all these projects that you come up with at hackathons-- do they come from real life ideas and problems that you're trying to solve? 

So most of the projects come from the problems I have within daily life. But hackathon provides a perfect opportunity to build it out because I have an immediate audience to validate my idea, as well as finding help. 

OK so, that actually really makes a lot of sense. And some of the bigger projects that have come out of that thinking are things like Anti-snoozer, Grindbit, Dr. Hazel. Can you tell us a little bit more about these projects? 

So Anti-snoozer is a drowsy detection system for people who drive behind the wheel. That was inspired by my aunt's accident while my uncle was driving drowsy. She ended up being permanently disabled. That won the AT&T developer Summit hackathon. And also, I've been given the chance to show John Kerry the demo last year. This year, I have open sourced the entire project, so the community can take it further. 

The Grindbit is a headband that detects teeth grinding. I actually grind teeth, myself, so I try to find a way to track that. Vehicle rear vision was for my old car because it didn't have a camera to look behind. I used [INAUDIBLE] camera and [INAUDIBLE] radar so it can assist me while I'm parking. 

Through that project, I learned how to detect dogs and cats while parking. And I was able to use the exact same skill to build Dr. Hazel, which is to detect melanoma and other skin cancers. 

So Dr. Hazel has actually really taken off. Can you tell us a little bit more about that project? 

So Dr. Hazel is an AI that can detect skin cancer. My co-founder, Mike, and I recently built that out in a hackathon. We used [? Cafe ?] Intel [INAUDIBLE] Cloud, and [INAUDIBLE] computing stick so we can detect it real-time and offline. After building it out, we were covered on TechCrunch, Wall Street Journal, and many other media outlets. Right after the coverage, we received hundreds of e-mails where people asked me for beta requests as well as sending us their photos of their moles so we can improve our AI training. Right now, we're talking to institutions and investors to see how to take this forward. 

That is really cool. It's going to be interesting to see where Dr. Hazel is going to go. So with all of the ideas and projects that you have at hackathons, there's got to be an interesting innovation process around this. So what is the hardest part of innovating for you? 

So all startups, the ideas are the easiest and execution is the hard work. But the hardest part is still finding the product market fit. I've built out hundreds of prototypes [INAUDIBLE] by now, but very few of them actually gain people's interests. When you show people the demo, they're all impressed. But it's the follow up e-mails what really counts. 

Yeah, I think there's a theme here that all of your projects and ideas are geared towards helping people in a positive way. So what's the inspiration behind that? 

So I really believe technology is here to advance humankind and to reduce suffering. As a developer, I think it's my duty to utilize the best technologies to make a difference. And hopefully along the way, I can inspire others to do the same. 

That's amazing. Using technology to help others in a positive way, that's really what it's all about. Peter, thanks for coming on today and sharing your work with us. We really appreciate it. 

Thanks for having me on, Wendy. 

You can connect with Peter and follow along with his projects at the link provided. Also, we've included a link so that you can learn more about the Intel Software innovator program. That wraps up this installment of the show. Be sure to like this video and subscribe to the Intel Software YouTube channel to keep learning about the innovators of tomorrow. And on behalf of an amazing video crew, thanks for tuning in. And we'll see you next time.