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Published on Apr 22, 2015
Kyle Stewart, Virginia Tech Industrial Design Student, presents Zone the Best Student UX winner at the 2014 UX Awards. Zone utilizes wireless technology to improve the lives of parents and children with mild autism.
Zone is the product of a group of Virginia Tech Industrial Design Students, as a part of their sophomore wireless technology project. The team of four students did preliminary research on autism spectrum disorders through online websites and journals, information provided by the CDC, and communication with educators at associated nonprofits such as Autism Speaks. Members also gained insight to the problem by talking to real moms and dads who have children on the spectrum as well as teachers of autistic children. The team ideated on solutions and came to appropriate conclusions involving wearable technology and mobile displays. Sketching, graphic software, and 3D modeling software was used to explore the form of the final product and device/mobile architecture. The prompt was to create a universal design solution for a mother and her mildly autistic child, aimed at helping the child when he struggles socially and behaviorally. The solution aids autistic children in communicating how they feel, which is usually difficult for them to express, and helps parents gain a better understanding of their child, thus a greater ability to help their child. Zone has two components: a watch that the child wears and a corresponding app for a parent’s and teacher’s mobile device. Sensors on the underside of the watch utilize skin conductance technology to detect stress, a physical indicator of emotional outbursts. When stress is detected, and after the child is calm, he/she answers a series of questions prompted on the watch screen. This data is recorded in a database located on the parent’s mobile app. Within the app parents can access the history of outbursts, including outburst causes and intensity, and can receive live-updates when their child becomes stressed. Teachers can also stay connected and have the ability to make their own notes to add insight when outbursts occur. This offers a new way to track short-term and long-term behavioral development of children with autism.