A Stanford student won $15,000 for an invention that helps autistic kids pick up emotion

Autism Spectrum Disorder currently affects 1 in 68 kids in the United States, impairing their cognitive functions (in some cases) and their emotional intelligence.

Catalin Voss, a Stanford University graduate student, wants to make that emotional deficit a thing of the past.

Voss is the winner of the $15,000
Cure it!” Lemelson-MIT Student Prize, an annual award given to the nation’s top two collegiate inventors in health tech.

Voss’ invention is Autism Glass, a device that uses Google Glass equipped with artificial intelligence software to give kids with autism access to learn about people’s emotions.

When a person puts on Autism Glass, the AI software reads the expression of whoever is in front them. The heads-up display that comes in every pair of Google Glass then projects the appropriate feeling underneath the person’s face. All the wearer has to do is read the expression to know what someone else is feeling.

Originally from Heidelberg, Germany, Voss had already created and sold numerous apps before he came to America at 15. In his freshman year at Stanford, the 18-year-old teamed up with a classmate, Jonathan Yan, to create the facial-recognition technology Sension, which is still at the heart of Autism Glass.

Today, the grad student has paired the physical glasses with a smartphone app that can record what a child sees. Later, a parent or therapist can go over the footage with the child to help improve their emotional intelligence.

In future versions, Voss wants the software to be smart enough so it can pick up a wider range of cues, according to Scientific American.

The biggest challenge, and one Voss has had to face since he first launched Sension in 2013, is that kids using Autism Glass only learn comprehension; they don’t learn how to respond. For that, parents or therapists have had to intervene. Voss’ solution eventually involves giving kids a sample conversation that provides a back and forth for them to learn from.

It’s an ongoing problem other people in the field are working to solve, such as Ned Sahin, cognitive scientist and founder of Brain Power LLC. Sahin has created his own Google Glass-based programs that help people with autism strengthen their social skills.

If the trend holds, the future of autism therapy could be as simple as giving kids a new set of eyes to read the world.

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