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Year in Review: Top Technological Innovations of 2013

Technology and Autism News

Year in Review: Top Technological Innovations of 2013

This section of the National Autism Network’s Year in Review will focus on technological innovations that have assisted researchers and educators working with individuals on the spectrum. Technological innovations for the autism community can be incredibly hi-tech and expensive, such as robotics, or overly simplistic and ingenious, such as a cooking system designed specifically for people with autism. Below are some 2013’s most revolutionary innovations for the autism community:
  • New Technique Clears Way for Glimpse into Brain- A new technique known as CLARITY allows researchers to remove the fat molecules, or lipids that scatter light as it travels through the brain, while still maintaining the brain’s structure. The technique allows for researchers to photograph an intact mouse brain by taking only two images, one from the top and one from the bottom. The benefit of this technique is that researchers can apply multiple markers to stain different sets of neurons, and then wash them away, eventually creating a brain brightly painted with layer upon layer of information. The result is a 3D visualization of an intact brain. This video demonstrates how the process works as it provides the observer with a point-of-view journey of a 7-year-old child’s brain utilizing CLARITY.
  • NAO- Developed by Aldebaran Robotics, the NAO robot has been promoting human interaction for some time now. However, the company recently introduced their ASK NAO (Autism Solution for Kids) initiative to customize the NAO robot to support teachers and therapists working with students with autism. The just under 2-foot tall humanoid robot acts as a co-therapist, helping to improve social and communication deficits in children on the spectrum. The robot comes equipped with a tactile sensory, mobility, facial recognition software, and is designed to allow for real-time communication and interaction.
  • Child-Sized Brain Imaging Device- A small, customized magnetoencephalography (MEG) device records signals in children’s brains better than the typical adult-sized machine does, according to a recent study. Using the device, researchers determined that children with autism show a less intense response in their left auditory cortex when they hear a human voice than controls do. The close-fitting headpiece of the new device can record the child’s signals with increased precision and it also constrains head movements, which can tarnish results of imaging studies.
  • Virtual Reality (“Soaring Eagle” Program)- “Soaring Eagle” is a project at Oklahoma State University that is allowing teachers and students to use virtual reality to help autistic children from the 1st to 12th grade learn math and science. A computer allows for artificial environments to be created and uploaded for use and, once uploaded, the project is displayed on a three-dimensional mat surrounded by seven cameras that track every move. Participants use virtual reality goggles and a remote controller equipped with a joystick to engage in virtual environments. Children learn through play when they use virtual reality as a therapeutic tool. A video of the technology in action focuses on 8-year-old Joshua Dillin as he navigates through our solar system, gaining confidence and learning science as he explores. In the future, instructors will be able to program their own virtual reality simulations to adjust to daily lesson plans.
  • Match Cooking Prep System for People with Autism Spectrum Disorder- The Match Cooking Prep System, which was developed by Amanda Savitzky, encourages adults with autism to gather, measure, and mix food in the kitchen using an integrated set of tools. The system is designed to help individuals with special needs further independent life. Amanda was inspired to come up with the design by her 20-year-old brother, Steven, who is on the autism spectrum and currently lives at home with their parents. The innovation may not be complex, but its ingenious design earned Amanda a top prize of $10,000 at the 2013 Metropolis Next Generation Competition. The system utilizes basic shapes and colors to encourage adults with autism to gather, measure, and mix food to create their own meals in the kitchen. The final component of the system is the Match iPad app, which allows the user to break a recipe into a simple set of tasks and provides a reminder for which colors and shapes of the Match measuring cups link to their numeric measurements.
  • Apps - There are apps created every day for smart tablets that help individuals in any number of ways. Hundreds of these apps exist for individuals with autism, their families, and the therapists and educators that work with them. It would be unjust to highlight just a few of these apps, since there are so many that assist children autism with communication, socialization, education, and behavior. However, our members can look forward to the release of the National Autism Network’s Apps Library in the near future. The library will catalogue different applications based on their function and provide our members with a one-stop resource for autism related apps for Android and iOS.