Considered by many (perhaps unfairly) to be a very public failure, Google Glass can add another plot point to its comeback story, this time as a tool to teach social skills to children and adults with autism.
Enter Brain Power, a company that has combined neuroscience and augmented reality. The launch of the company's Empower Me system is made possible by Google Glass Enterprise Edition.
Compatible with Google Glass and other Android-based smartglasses, Empower Me consists of a primary companion app and a web portal for educators and caregivers. The system also contains a suite of goal-oriented apps designed for a first-person point of view that trains users on language, emotional understanding, social interaction, stress management, and other behavioral skills that impact those on the autism spectrum.
One app, called Emotion Charades, asks the Glass user to choose the emoji that matches the emotion of the person sitting across from them. The Empower Me system uses artificial intelligence to identify the subject's expression and then uses the accelerometer housed inside Glass to detect the player's selection. Another app, called Transition Master, challenges players to find items in a virtual environment while the app measures the user's stress and anxiety related to encountering an unfamiliar place.
"People with autism work hard to get through every day. It's a constant struggle, and Brain Power helps to relieve some of the pressure," said Sara Gaynor, autism parent and special educator specializing in autism spectrum disorders, via a a statement provided by the company. "Kids engage with it naturally, and even though some kids worry about putting things on their heads, they are so taken with the device and what it can do for them, this seems to be a non-issue. The added 'cool factor' helps tremendously as well!"
Currently, Brain Power is conducting a crowdfunding campaign that has netted nearly $60,000 to date. The campaign offers supporters four different early bird packages, including one package that combines the Empower Me system and Google Glass.
Consisting of a team of scientists, educators, clinicians, and technologists, including some who are autistic, the company began its work under the Google Glass Explorer Program and is now an official Glass Partner. Brain Power's published research into applying augmented reality has concluded that the technology is not only safe, feasible, and tolerable for patients, but has also achieved improvements in children with autism as measured by standard behavior-rating scales.
"Empowering people is my passion," says Dr. Ned T. Sahin, founder and CEO of Brain Power. "Technology is often blamed for pulling people apart, but my goal was to use technology, and science, to bring people even closer than they ever might have been, and to unlock the immense power of their unique brains. You could say that we are using artificial intelligence to unlock natural intelligence."
While Google Glass wasn't ready for prime time as a general consumer device, with this effort it's proving that its utility as a device to improve the lives of some people may have been its true calling all along.