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Researchers from IIT-Gandhinagar Develops a Gaze-sensitive, VR-based Social Interactive System Dedicated to Individuals with Autism

A team of researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar has developed a new virtual reality system that can provide personalized feedback based on the dynamic gaze patterns of autistic individuals. Titled Towards design of multi-user virtual reality-based interactive social communication platform for individuals with Autism and its implications on eye gaze, the system is developed under the guidance of Prof. Uttama Lahiri of the Electrical Engineering department, IIT-Gn. It reportedly works on specific eye-tracking measures that are regarded as very crucial for products developed for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), since they have relatively less attention span and distracted quite easily. The research work has already been published in some journals and patented by the developers.

Autism is essentially a neurodevelopmental disorder. As per pediatric neurologists, individuals with ASD face significant difficulties while focusing on communicators’ face. This difficulty, known as the atypical gaze pattern, leads them to endure severe challenges comprehending the speaker’s emotions during a social conversation. It can also affect their ability to maintain appropriate proximity with the communicator. Pradeep Raj KB, the lead researcher of the project reported that the said challenges faced by people with ASD ask for solutions assisted by alternative technology that can ensure quantifiable, accessible, and personalized services.

Pradeep adds that they have used composite estimates of gazing pattern, blink rate, and pupillary dilation rate in the system to comprehend a person’s affective state to offer personalized training. He explains that the new system has a unique facility to provide information on such affective states that can easily help even inexperienced individuals, be it their parents or therapists, to modulate their training components. With this information, they can design the training by alternating the task difficulty level according to the different affective states of the concerned children.

Multi-user virtual reality-based platforms.

Along with the eye-tracking technology, multi-user virtual reality-based platforms have been incorporated into the new system. The developers report that this technology is not susceptible to communication vulnerabilities and has the capacity to offer tasks with varying difficulty levels. It can switch between task difficulties based on the unique needs of the user on its own, even in the absence of the parents or the therapists. Pradeep remarked that this multi-user VR-based system can potentially assist as a complementary tool to ASD interventions, as it could provide the practitioners with necessary information regarding the participants’ affective states and performance, quantified as per gaze-related indices. He also added that if this platform is made available to as many special needs homes and schools as possible, it could provide numerous people with ASD with the necessary support in leading a productive community life.

Study

The study has been conducted involving 18 individuals with ASD and yielded positive results. Pradeep noted that they are now looking forward to company partnerships, through which the platform can be developed on a larger scale, making it commercially available for individuals with ASD across the country.

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