Google Glass to help autistic children? This is the idea behind Brain Power, an American startup founded by neuroscientist Ned T. Sahin. With a special software program, Google Glass can offer valuable help to children on the Autism scale in improving their social and communication skills.
Sahin became interested in using Google Glass to help children with autism after attending a symposium at MIT on the neurodevelopmental disorder while wearing the device. For unlike a smartphone or table, these wearables encourage children to interact with their environment, instead of staying glued to a screen and withdrawing even further into themselves.
In order to turn the augmented reality headset into a neuro-assistive device, Sahin hit upon the idea of adding a processor and software program: as he explains in an interview in Industries & Technologies:
“We see Google Glass as a simple computer and we then develop the features we want for it.”
HELPING autistIC CHILDREN ACQUIRE social SKILLs
To encourage students on the autism spectrum to make more eye contact with those around them, Brain Power uses a gamified experience. When the child put the glasses on, images of cartoon characters are displayed on the screen. The child’s attention is thus drawn to their faces. When they turn their heads to make eye contact, the cartoon goes away and the face is revealed, and they can earn points
Google Glass also has a system that makes it easier to recognise facial expressions and body language and “emotion decoding,” things which are typically difficult for autistic children.
USING machine learning TO PREDICT MELTDOWNS
In order to tell when autistic kids are about to have a meltdown, embedded sensors are used to measure various indicators such as skin conductance, temperature and motion. Based on this data, the software can interpret the child’s behaviour, and can be further developed using machine learning. 200 families are currently taking part in the Brain Power beta testing programme, having bought the kit for the equivalent of €1,500, and Ned T. Sahin is also planning to launch a crowd-funding campaign. Clinical trials are due to start in Aprils this year at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. It could ultimately be used for patients suffering from brain damage, hyperactivity, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.
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wearables: HELPING CHILDREN BECOME MORE SELF-SUFFICIENT
A similar project was launched at Stanford in November 2015: for the Autism Glass Project, Catalin Voss and Nick Haber devised a fun way to help children identify emotions.
In 2014, Dr Jason Beach of Tennessee Tech University used the Oculus Rift headset for an immersive virtual reality and education project. The headset was used to help students with autism develop social and life skills in a safe virtual environment.
These technologies can prove valuable in the healthcare sector for empowering patients. Easier to use than tablets – which also have the disadvantage of further isolating children – wearables also help keep them in touch with the real world. A number of other such projects are set to emerge over the coming months, and who knows? Perhaps one day we’ll have prescriptions for connected devices…