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Being able to tell if a person’s happy or sad is a skill most of us take for granted, but the world of human interaction can be a scary place for those with autism. People with autism struggle with eye contact and emotion recognition, two key components in social interaction. Typically, children will engage in behaviour therapy to help teach them to read social cues and respond accordingly. Most children can make progress this way, but the problem lies with inconsistent sessions and lack of real-world application. It’s hard to learn what happy looks like when all you have is a yellow smiley face on a flashcard as a reference.

Wow, it seems like we would have developed technology to help with this by now. When is that coming? Well, we’re so glad you asked, because it’s coming right now! Researchers at Stanford University have developed technology that works with Google Glass to help autistic children interpret facial cues and recognize the emotions others are projecting. Even with just the preliminary testing of only 40 subjects, it’s clear that the glasses can facilitate great improvements.

Autism therapy
Stanford University

The glasses work by using facial recognition software to detect expressions of emotion and then translate the information in a way the wearer can better understand. The translation can also be tailored to the individual with options for text, audio or emoticon indicators.

Fun fact: the glasses also store data for later analysis during behaviour therapy lessons. They record the interactions and even monitor the wearer’s eye movements and focus so parents and educators can see how much eye contact the wearer’s making.

Google glass data
Stanford University
How Google glass works
Stanford University

The ‘Stage 1’ studies (which focused on in-lab recognition and application of learning) are complete and have shown incredibly positive results. Subjects are not only improving their expression recognition when wearing the glasses, but they also learn facial cues much faster. After wearing the glasses for a while, the children could better associate facial expressions from new people with similar ones they remembered from their family. Subjects were also more socially confident and felt less isolated after interacting with the glasses on.

The Autism Glass team is currently on their second phase of testing, this time outside the lab with 100 participants. Their goal is to, at some point, have a commercially available product that is medically reimbursable through health insurance.

So if you were wondering what humans would actually end up using Google Glass for, this might be it. Turns out that little gimmicky product will actually be a great scientific advancement for people with autism. Thanks, Google, is there anything you can’t do?