We often fancy technology and devices as great addons to our lives, but for some minorities, they can also be great enablers. Trying to harness the latest in smartphone technology, software development, and psychology, Samsung developed its new Look At Me app to help train children with autism make eye contact, recognize facial expressions and emotions, and ultimately help them develop better socials skills and bring them closer to family and friends. Best of all, to the kid, it’s all just a game.
Look At Me works based on the observation that kids with autism have a hard time making eye contact, even with their own family members. On the other hand, they don’t have any problems keeping their eyes glued on smartphones and can easily be obsessed by these mobile devices. Putting the two together, Samsung, with the help of professor Hee-Jeong Yoo from Seoul National University Bundag Hospital and professor Kyong-Mee Chung and Sang-Chul Chong from Yonsei University Department of Psycology, developed an app that will entice these kids to look at people’s faces by turning the task into a game.
The app doesn’t really use any special kind of hardware that isn’t already present in any smartphone, in particular the camera. It does employ a bit of facial recognition algorithms to aid in the detection of emotions and expressions. By turning the act of looking at someone else’s face into a smartphone game, kids with autism feel less anxious about making eye contact with people. The app takes advantage of these kids’ almost natural inclination to use and play with mobile devices in order to get them hooked on the game. It’s a kind of temporary addiction that has beneficial results.
20 children were entered into the app’s clinical trial. In just 8 weeks of daily usage, ranging from 15 to 20 minutes per day, these kids exhibited a 60 percent improvement in making eye contact. Although the app does put up a physical barrier between the child and his or her target face, in this case a smartphone, it is only a temporary barrier that, when removed, also takes away psychological and emotional barriers as well.
Samsung’s Look At Me is available for free on Google Play Store. Naturally, Samsung advertises it as optimized for its Galaxy devices, including the Galaxy S5, Galaxy S4, Galaxy S3, Galaxy Note 4, Galaxy Note 3, Galaxy Note 2, Galaxy Zoom 2, Galaxy Zoom and Galaxy Tab S. However, the app does seem to also be compatible with other Android smartphones, including the Nexus 5.