Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) patients often have difficulty communicating emotions to their caregivers, and these bottled up feelings can lead to exploding tantrums, especially in children. Researchers have for years sought ways to help ASD sufferers connect with the world. Last week, a team of NYUAD students contributed to these efforts with a novel, high-tech solution.
NYUAD first year students Monika Filipovska, Jose Varias, Asfandyar Sirhindi, and Oliver Heyn have developed a t-shirt that can detect the emotional state of autistic children, and transmit that information to monitors on the other side of the room, or around the world. The students’ efforts stood out from over 160 entries to win the Innovator of The Year title, a competition sponsored by Abu Dhabi Technology Development Committee.
The project was first conceived during their J-Term class Engineering Foundations: Design and Innovation, where the challenge was to create an innovation to help patients with incurable diseases lead a better life. The four students, who entered under the team name eMotion, saw promise in their design concept and continued working on the project in the weeks after J-Term concluded.
Here’s how their winning entry works: the prototype shirt has a skin conductivity sensor which measures the level of excitement in a person through the moisture on the skin. The more excited a person, the more conductible the person's skin will be due to the production of more moisture in their skin cells.
Besides the skin conductivity sensor, the shirt also has an accelerometer that measures the rocking motion of a child — a typical behavior for certain autistic children when they are distressed or excited. "It gives a parent of an autistic child a better grasp into the state of their child," Varias explained.
The eMotion team's research discovered that "the chunkiness and foreign feeling [of smart watches] on a child made it difficult for the watch to stay on and not be tampered with," said team leader Varias. Hence when developing the prototype sensor for the shirt, much care was taken to create as little discomfort as possible, such as using conductive threading to connect electronics onto the material and a LilyPad Arduino microcontroller board which can be sewn easily on.
With a cash prize of AED 40,000, the NYUAD team will continue to develop the prototype to reduce the size of the sensor for flexibility and comfort, and also explore further potentials. "We have just exhibited one possibility that the shirt can be. Ideally, the shirt would ideally be built specifically for each patient case, after a child’s behavior and patterns had been diagnosed," Varias said.
Read more from the Gulf News here.