Young and old, technology is never far from us. It enables our communication and helps us grow and maintain social relationships. For years Autism Speaks has promoted the research of technologies to support children and adults with ASD, whether that is through the awarding of grants or by supporting research-networking events.
2011 saw a new approach for Autism Speaks’ Innovative Technology for Autism (ITA) initiative with the running of a student design competition called Autism Connects. The design brief was pretty straight forward: to create technology design ideas for individuals with autism to better connect with the world around them, and to allow individuals who do not have autism to better understand and connect with those who do.
Autism Connects was a partnership between Autism Speaks, Core 77 and jovoto. In total there were 126 design ideas submitted from over 30 countries. The popularity of the competition really shows the passion and interest there is for autism around the world and how we can engage young professionals to use their burgeoning skills to make a difference in the lives of people with ASD and their families.
The submitted ideas were judged by a panel of international experts on ASD, including Temple Grandin and John Robison. The jury rated the best design and first prize to Gobug, by Greg Katz and Tom Rim from the University of Illinois College of Fine and Applied Arts Industrial Design.
“Gobug is designed to move around on a ground surface at the control of the users. Up to two or three children can play with the toy simultaneously. Each user takes ownership of one controller. These controllers work in conjunction; each user points his/her remote in a direction, and the Gobug moves in the combined direction of the active controllers” said Greg Katz and Tom Rim.
When asked how the team came upon this original idea, Greg Katz said, “We took this on from a user-centered design perspective. The focus was 100% on the person we were designing for. We designed through an iterative process, constantly sketching ideas and fine tuning them in to workable concepts. The outcome was Gobug.”
In second place was WEsync, which was designed by Noel Cunningham from Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore, Md.
“weSYNC is an application for the iPad, iPhone, and Web, that creates a specialized profile for the autistic individual by gathering knowledge from each caregiver and establishing a centralized location where it can be accessed and edited by everyone. Establishing a dialogue among doctors, therapists, teachers and parents allows them to share information and reinforce oneanother’s efforts.”
In third place was another idea from Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore designed by Cameron Zotter whose idea is called Visual Watch. The watch is both a time management and picture exchange communication system (PECS) tool designed specifically for people with ASD.
The three prize winners were invited to this week’s International Meeting for Autism Research to present their designs in person at the technology demonstration on Friday. Autism Speaks’ Chief Science Officer Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., will be announcing the winners and celebrating their innovations on Friday at the event.
The breadth and wealth of these students’ ideas reflects the technology and autism field in general. All of the designs that were submitted had considered and detailed ways of using technology to aid the lives of people with ASD or those who love and support them. The potential of these ideas to make a difference for families is vast. Our next challenge is how we get these concepts and ideas out into the real world and we’d be interested to hear your ideas on how to achieve that.
Through this competition Autism Speaks has encouraged a new community of young people to think about ASD. Our hope is that Greg, Tim, Noel, and Cameron will take this experience into their working lives and have autism close to their thoughts when they are planning their future projects.
Lastly, none of this could have been possible without our fantastic ITA committee members, who are chaired by Drs. Katherina Boser and Matthew Goodwin. Also, enormous thanks to our judges and the community experts who guided the students’ design ideas to help make them as good as they turned out to be.
You can find out more about the three Jury Prize winners and the six Community Prize winners here.
The August 2010 issue of Redbook gives a shout-out to Autism Speaks and an awesome app you can download to support us while you shop – CauseWorld. If you have an iPhone or Android, download CauseWorld and start earning “karmas,” which turn into donations. Check it out and tell us what you think.
This guest post is by Geri Dawson, Chief Science Officer, Autism Speaks.
The other day, I was talking to a mother who was telling me about her teenage son. The story was a familiar one to any mother who has raised a boy through the adolescent years. He wants more control over his own life, has a short fuse, gets easily frustrated, and feels no one really understands him. His mom tries to communicate with him, but much of the time, she’s at a loss figuring out what he really wants. It’s been like this for a while now.
Most fourteen year old boys are struggling with these same issues. But, there is one way in which her son is different: he has autism. His spoken language is limited to one or two word phrases. His mom described how he would repeatedly say “Rajaneba”, hoping that his mother would understand what he wanted. This went on for two years. She had no clue. Finally, in desparation and frustration, he would start to hit himself.
Then, his mom heard about something that any 14 year old boy would want—and iPhone with a special app. This particular application is really special, though—it allows users to tap words, phrases, or sentences on the screen to create messages that are read aloud by the software. Samuel Sennott a graduate student in special education at Penn State, collaborated with a developer from Amsterdam to create Proloquo2Go, an iPhone application that can be used by people with language impairments to communicate.
It didn’t take long for her son to tap out “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood,” referring to a DVD he had watched over two years ago and that he wanted to watch again. Raja – neba! She happily found the DVD and handed it to him.
Over the next several weeks, the world changed for this mom and her son. Her son had a lot to say as it turns out. She found out that he has a strong interest in math and international events. He’s doing a lot better in his classes at school. He thinks it’s really cool to carry around an iPhone. And, like most 14 year old boys, he’s spending a lot of time texting.
Autism Speaks has partnered with several mobile apps to allow you to “Light It Up Blue” and bring even more awareness to autism!
CauseWorld is a mobile application that lets you help the world while you shop!
All you need to do is walk into one of the many stores you most likely frequent anyway, such as common grocers, hardware stores, department stores, and many others. Pull out your phone, open the app, and check in. No purchase is required. By checking in, you earn karmas from our sponsors. Donate those karmas for to Autism Speaks or other causes that you care about! CauseWorld is available on the iPhone and Android phones.
Do something extraordinary by documenting autism awareness or how you are lighting it up blue! iPhone only for now.
Shine your light blue to commemorate Autism Awareness Day on Friday, April 2. Download color #10 on the Fight Lights color picker and taking action to raise awareness about autism in our communities. A percentage of proceeds will go to Autism Speaks for the entire month of April as Fight Lights encourages all fans to fight for autism awareness and shine a blue light wherever they are! iPhone only for now.