Autism AppJam highlights academia’s growing impact on the autism community

July 2, 2015

The third annual competition expands collaboration while continuing to facilitate the discussion about technological interventions to aid those affected by autism.

Autism AppJam 2015

The third annual Autism AppJam—a novel collaboration between UC Irvine’s Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS), Chapman University, and the Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders of Southern California—continued to expand its altruistic aim this year with five Southern California campuses represented across 44 student teams. Students from the University of Southern California, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and Saddleback College also participated in this year’s AppJam.

The competition, which tasks student teams with building an app in two weeks that benefits anyone affected by autism, including individuals on the spectrum, family members and caregivers, held its formal judging ceremony April 24 at Chapman University. ICS graduate student organizer Erick Custodio welcomed the expanded partnership with Chapman University in organizing and hosting this year’s event: “This partnership allowed us to have the kickoff at UCI and the final reception at Chapman,” says Custodio. “A change in venue definitely gave the AppJam a new look and feel.”

While new technologies abounded throughout the competition, a lot of excitement this year was around applications that employed virtual reality simulator Oculus Rift, Google Glass and smart watches. The Chapman team behind WayPoint took first place for their app, which allows parents and caregivers to track their autistic child’s location on a smart watch or other device. While UCI’s team HGDC UCI (Brandon Hastings, Danny Nguyen, Brian Wei, Jae Choi, Zachary Hart, Brian Tero and Andrea Landrito) took second place with their
Study Buddy
app, which helps autistic children learn how to identify different objects, people and contexts through positive reinforcement.

Custodio applauded Team Loading for their novelty, saying, “Team Loading probably had one of the more unique apps [this year]. They devised a keyboard for mobile devices that used the commonly used PEC board system parents and caregivers use with people with autism. Instead of letters, the keyboard would construct phrases and sentences through images.”

Three UCI teams garnered honorable mentions: Team Craft (Gabriel Chow, Francis Hong, Peter Nguyen, Thanh Tran, Brandon Lim and Rainee Khabagnote)
for their web application that helps autistic people find rewarding opportunities and fulfilling careers. Team Slytherin (Jennifer Re, Daniel Osterman, Ian Jackson, Matt Robillard, Melissa LeBlanc, Arsen) for Color^Eye, which is a Google Glass-based app that helps users distinguish colors in their environment. And Team SayWhat? (Alejandro Rangel, LouAnne Boyd, Fox Pan) for their KOALA – Kinetic Optical Auditory Learning Assistant, which is an app that supports social skills by teaching vocabulary words through images, audio and using the words in a sentence. Student teams from UCI also won the Hype Award, User’s Choice and People’s Choice awards. For a full list of AppJam 2015 winners, click here.

In addition to expanding technologies and school collaborations, Custodio notes academia’s growing impact on the autism community. “It's always a great thing to see clinicians, researchers, companies and even venture capitalists come together for a cause like autism,” he says. “The AppJam has become an incubator or Kickstarter of sorts to start—and continue—the discussion about technological interventions for the autism community.”

Check out photos on Flickr from the AppJam Public Viewing and Awards Reception:

— Story by Courtney Hamilton
— Photos by Matt Miller