Project Invent club works to improve lives of those with autism through assistive technology

Project Invent club works to improve lives of those with autism through assistive technology

Project Invent club works to improve lives of those with autism through assistive technology
February 05
01:16 2019

A student-run club is working to improve the lives of individuals with autism by inventing assistive technology and debuted their designs at the inaugural Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science Fair in January.

Project Invent is a nationwide organization that supports high school students who design technology for social good. The UNT chapter was founded last fall by TAMS senior Rik Patnaik, who met other Project Invent teams while attending the Bay Area Maker Faire the previous summer.

“I was motivated to bring this type of invention culture to TAMS and start building technology for social good,” said Patnaik. Patnaik coaches two five-member teams: Project Cape and Project Lyra.

The 11 TAMS students are preparing to pitch their inventions to Silicon Valley investors in May for a chance to have their inventions funded. Both teams have created their own GoFundMe pages to fundraise $3,000 each for traveling and accommodation expenses.

“I’m looking forward to actually seeing the prototypes and seeing if they can become real companies that really change the world,” Patnaik said.

This year’s inventions were inspired by Patnaik’s cousin, who has nonverbal autism.

“Since I learned about his diagnosis in middle school, I wanted to start this service project or something to help the special needs community in any way,” Patnaik said.

Project Cape member Sophia Xu also has a cousin diagnosed with autism and said she felt personally connected to her team’s innovations.

“This experience has broadened my view on kids with autism,” Xu said. “I think it actually affected me a lot. I might want to pursue child psychology.”

A board demonstrating Team Lyra’s invention and mission. Team Lyra’s invention is a bracelet that could help people with autism interact with police. Image by: Trevon McWilliams.

Project Invent teams are paired with a community partner who serves as a consultant for the inventions. Through UNT’s Kristin Farmer Autism Center, the students were connected with Larry Dieker, a 24-year-old with Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD and fetal alcohol syndrome.

After hearing about Dieker’s experience spending a night in jail as a result of miscommunication with police, Project Lyra designed a wristwatch to help police predict how an individual with autism would react. According to team member Rhythm Garg, the wristwatch could also be scanned by police to notify and share GPS location with a caretaker, as well as record the encounter.

“[Understanding is] our fundamental goal, so meeting with Larry and getting to understand his emotions was a challenge that we really haven’t had much exposure to in the past,” Garg said.

In addition to working with Dieker, who will test out 3D printed prototypes of the inventions, Project Lyra is working with UNT Police Officer John Hester, group member Connie Wang said.

“He has been our sounding board from the police point of view,” Wang said. “We are going to try testing things out with some of his officers who don’t know exactly what’s going on.”

Project Cape’s technology focuses on reducing sensory overload, in which an individual with autism may go into emotional distress caused by bright light or loud noises. Although the problem is combated with weighted vest technology, Cape member Shaurya Kumar likened these vests to profiling, as the technology is bulky and noticeable.

“We thought to take [weighted vest] technology and incorporate it into a hoodie to make it more discrete and functional,” Kumar said.

The “Helping Hoodie” Project Cape designed was inspired by Dieker’s love of music. Once the hood is drawn, a string compression system activates bone conduction nodes in the hoodie to play calming music.

Project Lyra and Project Cape plan to attend the Denton Mini Maker Faire on Feb. 24 to continue their fundraising efforts and to receive feedback on their designs.

Featured Image: Team Lyra presenting their invention for Project Invent. Image by: Trevon McWilliams. 

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Michelle Nguyen

Michelle Nguyen

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