Microsoft’s Bing Fund targeted autism at a hackathon in Seattle bringing together developers, designers and other experts to tackle a problem that hits close to home for many people.


Microsoft’s Bing Fund startup incubator is holding a hackathon this weekend in Seattle — bringing together developers, designers and other experts to tackle a problem that hits close to home for many people in technology: autism.

Autism has been found to be more prevalent among people and families in the technology industry. The plan for the hackathon grew in part out of the organizers’ own exposure to autism in their own social circles, said Rahul Sood, who oversees the Bing Fund and is general manager of Microsoft’s Global Startups Team.

Sood explained via email, “As we batted the idea of hosting a hackathon, it got us thinking – if we’re going ask some of top engineering talent to come together over a weekend to hack, let’s make it meaningful. Not a hackathon for the sake of hacking, which is fun too, but actually come up with tangible outcomes that can help make a difference.”

For the record, they say, the prototypes don’t need to be built on Microsoft technologies.

One area where technology could help is in the diagnosis of autism, said Microsoft’s Aya Zook, pointing to statistics showing that as many as 1 in 88 kids have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

“Diagnosis typically takes up to a year in children,” Zook said. “That’s a year of not knowing exactly what’s wrong, a year of frustration and aggravation for the kid and the family. News like this validates a need for hacks that can hopefully get us there faster and elevate the discussion.”

Microsoft is partnering on the hackathon with the UW Autism Center, Twilio, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Seattle Autism Guild, TeachTown, Autism Speaks, and the MIT Media Lab.

The hackathon starts at 6 p.m. Friday and concludes Sunday evening at the SURF Incubator in Seattle. Details are available here. At this point they’re especially looking for additional designers to join the event.

This is expected to be the first in a series of hackathons focused on autism, with the next tentatively planned for Boston.

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