Social Communication Coaching Smartglasses: Well Tolerated in a Diverse Sample of Children and Adults With Autism

JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2017 Sep 21;5(9):e140. doi: 10.2196/mhealth.8534.


Background: Augmented reality (AR) smartglasses are an emerging technology that is under investigation as a social communication aid for children and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and as a research tool to aid with digital phenotyping. Tolerability of this wearable technology in people with ASD is an important area for research, especially as these individuals may experience sensory, cognitive, and attentional challenges.

Objective: The aim of this study was to assess the tolerability and usability of a novel smartglasses system that has been designed as a social communication aid for children and adults with autism (the Brain Power Autism System [BPAS]). BPAS runs on Google Glass Explorer Edition and other smartglasses, uses both AR and affective artificial intelligence, and helps users learn key social and emotional skills.

Methods: A total of 21 children and adults with ASD across a spectrum of severity used BPAS for a coaching session. The user's tolerability to the smartglasses, user being able to wear the smartglasses for 1 minute (initial tolerability threshold), and user being able to wear the smartglasses for the entire duration of the coaching session (whole session tolerability threshold) were determined through caregiver report.

Results: Of 21 users, 19 (91%) demonstrated tolerability on all 3 measures. Caregivers reported 21 out of 21 users (100%) as tolerating the experience, while study staff found only 19 out of 21 users managed to demonstrate initial tolerability (91%). Of the 19 users who demonstrated initial tolerability, all 19 (100%) were able to use the smartglasses for the entire session (whole session tolerability threshold). Caregivers reported that 19 out of 21 users (91%) successfully used BPAS, and users surpassed caregiver expectations in 15 of 21 cases (71%). Users who could communicate reported BPAS as being comfortable (94%).

Conclusions: This preliminary report suggests that BPAS is well tolerated and usable to a diverse age- and severity-range of people with ASD. This is encouraging as these devices are being developed as assistive technologies for people with ASD. Further research should focus on improving smartglasses design and exploring their efficacy in helping with social communication in children and adults with ASD.

Keywords: augmented reality; autism; autism spectrum disorder; digital health; education; medtech; smartglasses; tech; technology.