Blog Posts


Emotion-reading gadgets

Click here for Shaundra’s Profile.

Shaundra Daily builds software that helps kids recognize, and learn from, their emotions. It’s a topic close to her heart: when she was a child, she says, she “didn’t really get emotion.”

Many children with autism struggle with a similar problem: not being able to fully communicate their emotions, or fully understand what others are feeling. Fortunately, scientists like Shaundra are building high-tech tools that can help.

Last summer, I had the pleasure of seeing one of Shaundra’s MIT colleagues, Rosalind Picard, give a talk at the World Science Festival in New York about several of her autism projects.

Read. My. Stress Levels. (Image courtesy of nerissa’s ring)

One of her team’s tools, called the Q Sensor, is a wristband that measures the electrical conductivity of the skin and then wirelessly transmits this data back to computers or cell phones. Skin conductance is a good measure of the body’s response to stress. So, when wearing the device, individuals with autism—or their teachers or family members—can monitor their emotional response even if they don’t show it on their face or express it verbally. (You can see a video of how the Q Sensor works here.)

Individuals with autism also have trouble reading other people’s facial expressions and emotions, which Picard has addressed in another project. She created a video system to be used during one-on-one conversations. The system can predict simple emotions—such as confusion, interest, or disagreement—based on footage of head movements and facial expressions. One person in the conversation wears a pair of glasses outfitted with a tiny display that shows this feedback about the other person’s emotions. Ideally, this tool will help people with autism interpret subtle cues during real interactions.

That’s only two of Picard’s many amazing projects. Check out the full list here.

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Virginia Hughes

    Virginia Hughes is a freelance science writer in Brooklyn, New York, and she specializes in brains, genes, and the biotech industry. After wrangling human subjects in a large virtual reality lab, she turned to journalism and has since worked at Discover Magazine, Seed Magazine, and the science desk of National Public Radio. Her job entails visiting some of the world’s best laboratories, writing news and feature stories in her pajamas, Tweeting, and contributing to the delightfully quirky science blog, The Last Word on Nothing. Virginia’s secret life revolves around two activities: critiquing trendy New York City restaurants and playing with other people’s puppies.