20-year-old wins Student Health Tech Prize for Autism Glass

Catalin Voss has developed Autism Glass, a device which can tell an autistic user whether a person the user is looking at is happy, sad or angry. For this he won the $15,000 “Cure it!” 2016 Lemelson–MIT Student Prize on tuesday.



When Google shelved its controversial Google Glass in 2014, it had no inkling of the medical potential of the device.  20-year-old Stanford University graduate student Catalin Voss has developed emotion-recognition software for Google Glass that can accurately tell an autistic child whether a person the child is looking at is happy, sad or angry. She is calling it the Autism Glass.

In many ways this is a huge breakthrough as it is common knowledge that autistic children struggle with making eye contact, recognizing emotions and social cues exchanged with other people. Catalin, working in the lab of pediatrics associate professor Dennis Wall at the Stanford School of Medicine, developed the device which can tell an autistic child wearing the device whether a person the child looks at is happy, sad or angry.

Catalin Voss walked away with $15,000 “Cure it!” 2016 Lemelson–MIT Student Prize on tuesday, which rewards technology-based health care inventions.

Currently the most effective and widely used autism intervention technique is behavior-focused therapy in which the therapist uses flash cards to promote learning and language. “But there are just not enough therapists to meet increasing demand, and flash cards are removed from real life,” Voss says.


With increasing prevalence of Austism in U.S. with 1 in 68 children now diagnosed with this condition, the Autism Glass may be just the right product at the right time.

The Autism Glass consists of a basic Google Glass used together with a smartphone, running software that analyzes data from the head-mounted display and providing feedback to the user. The device also records video for parents to review and ultimately help the wearer improve his learning. Voss’s dreams that that after a limited learning period, kids would not need the device.

The Autism Glass is still a work in progress as in-home trials started in January are providing data to Voss to fix bugs and refine the software further. So far there has been encouraging feedback from the families of 10 enrolled users. “Teachers are noting that they are making better eye contact and staying engaged,” says Voss, who is now toying with different feedback mechanisms including color, emoticons or audio cues. He is also working on perhaps the most critical challenge: how to help kids respond to the emotions they detect and identify.



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