Our work with the students of the Global Innovation Exchange (GIX) came to a close this past month, and we’d like to reflect on six months of work with a fantastic group of individuals.
In true product R&D fashion, our path to a working prototype was not linear.
When we started our journey with GIX, we fully committed to our student team. We endeavored to create an authentic relationship with the team working alongside them in a hands-on fashion, providing access to ourselves as mentor leads, as well as other expert mentors within Vulcan’s philanthropic technology team ranging from machine learning to UX research, and engineering specialists. We knew this was a team effort from the beginning and needed to lean on each other to reach our goal. The Launch Project at GIX was the perfect opportunity to blend timeboxed R&D and meaningful educational experience.
In June , our goal was to produce a working prototype and proof of concept that a communication device might increase empathy and improve communication between doctors and patients. Our focus in that particular area came from insights into malpractice suits in Washington state stemming from patients feeling a lack of participation in their health care decisions that had negative results. But after valuable public feedback from our initial blog post, we chose to refocus as a wearable device for autistic adults.
Our solution focused on two use case areas, doctor-patient communication and autisitc adults social communication. The prototype spanned three iterations: first an emotion analytics dashboard for doctors that delivered a haptic nudge for output feedback and next a Raspberry Pi 3 with camera and speaker to deliver real-time face emotion recognition. However, we needed something more lightweight and would give the ability to focus on software development, which led us to the Vuzix Blade glasses. The team developed an Android app to produce real-time emotion detection based on three inputs: speech to text, facial emotion recognition, and intonation. The system then delivers a cue to the wearer whether a positive or negative emotion was detected allowing our user to determine their own response.
GIX students (from left to right) LeAnn Huang and Shine Lin. Photographed by Jenna James.
What we learned:
- We are not the experts, our users are
- In building empathy, we recognize that because we do not have the lived experience, it is important for our users and feedback participants to guide us through what they need so we can then interpret that into a possible solution.
- Research is never finished
- Each use case is intricate and complex. While we have a glimpse into these areas we recognize there is more research to do and more to learn.
- Importance of participatory design
- It is important to involve all stakeholders to make something that truly fulfills a need and is usable.
- If at first you don’t succeed, that’s okay
- While we weren’t trying to take this to market right away, it’s just as important to understand what doesn’t work in a prototype. Knowing this sooner is better than too late.
With the additional use case focus, we put our feet to the ground and immersed ourselves in anything and everything we could, piecing together an outside perspective of the autistic community. Our directional focus soon turned murky once we realized that the autistic community is richer and more complex than our research initially revealed. We sought out to create a tool to enhance the empathy of others, but it was us as individuals whose empathy and perception changed, reframing our neurotypical view of the world from a neurodiverse lens.
We worked with neurodiversity advocates, doctors, and therapists working with autistic children and developed an in-depth view of the space. We know designing well-intended projects cannot happen without the input and embrace of the autistic community itself. Our students gained a deep understanding of inclusive design, contextualizing GIX lectures and course work. We engaged a community that are both underserved and of great value to society at large. We are excited to better serve and understand the autistic community with future work, and actually grew our own capacity for empathy and inclusivity along the way.
A special thank you to everyone who helped with this project and congratulations to our graduating student team: Tian Feng, LeAnn Huang, Shine Lin, and Chris Tran.
Vulcan mentors and GIX students (from left to right) Tian Feng, LeAnn Huang, Chris Emura, Jay Thiagarajan, Richard Zaragoza, Jenna James, Shine Lin, Christopher Tran. Photographed by Justin Horne.
GIX Empathics Project - Vulcan’s Engineering Blog
Empathics Trialing New Device for Autistic Adults - Vulcan’s Engineering Blog
Identity-First Language - autisticadvocacy.org
‘Autistic person’ or ‘person with autism’: is there a right way to identify people? - news.northeastern.edu
11,521 people answered this autism survey. Warning: the results may challenge you. - Autisticnotwierd.com
Neurodiversity is a competitive advantage. - Harvard Business Review
Psychosomatic properties of a scale to measure alexithymia. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics Blanchard, E.B; Arena, J.G. & Pallmeyer, T.P. (1981) - approximately 10% experience alexithymia