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VR To Help People With Autism Navigate Social Interactions

Virtual Reality Technology for People With Autism

A venture formed by students of New Zealand’s University of Auckland, which is developing virtual reality technology to help people with autism, has received funding to bring the concept to life over the summer.

As reported, Socius hopes to create specialist simulations for VR headsets to help people with autism better navigate social and professional situations.

Background

They were thrilled to secure a $5000 grant from and Australasian education consultancy this month.

The grant is awarded to only four promising projects in Australia and New Zealand with the potential to improve education in specific communities.

It will provide the student venture with the means to purchase vital equipment needed to test their simulations, such as 360-degree cameras and VR headsets.

The venture was formed by the University of Auckland students Anzel, Sarah Mwashomah and Weilian Du at last year’s Summer Lab.

Summer Lab is a six-week ideas accelerator run by the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship during the University summer holidays.

Founding member Anzel Singh explained that some people with autism often struggle with social interaction within everyday life situations such as job interviews.

The team realised that there were few support systems available and that technology has a lot of potential to make the social skill learning process easier.

About the Initiative

Simulations within VR headsets offer an excellent environment for people with autism to practice social skills, such as having a conversation with a stranger, in a non-judgemental space.

Over the summer, the venture will be testing a new platform for producing mixed reality. They are hoping that the exploration of this platform will allow them to make simulations more easily and ensure that meaningful modules are simple to understand and interact with.

They are also looking for software developers, more virtual and augmented reality enthusiasts and passionate people to join the team.

They are still in the process of researching how they want their simulations to be and which platform is best for utilisation and accessibility.

They are aiming to talk to as many people with autism spectrum disorder to ensure that the VR system produced is safe, inclusive and an effortless and positive experience for the user.

About the Venture

Since being formed, the venture has been developing the concept and bringing new talent on to the team.

They also became finalists in a sustainable innovation competition and were flown all-expenses-paid to Barcelona to pitch their idea at influential tech start-up event, 4YFN.

The start-up now has eight people working voluntarily on the technology part-time, with students from bioengineering, health psychology, and biological sciences joining the team, as well as a history student with autism spectrum disorder and a virtual reality tutor.

The original founders completed their degrees this year but will continue to see the venture through.

The team is hopeful that they can create a product that truly meets the needs of people with autism by bringing together all of these new skill sets and perspectives to the team.

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