UX Awards

The Premier Awards for Exceptional Digital Experience

Zone Details


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Zone utilizes wireless technology to improve the lives of parents and children with mild autism.

Zone is the product of a group of Virginia Tech Industrial Design Students, as a part of their sophomore wireless technology project. The team of four students did preliminary research on autism spectrum disorders through online websites and journals, information provided by the CDC, and communication with educators at associated nonprofits such as Autism Speaks. Members also gained insight to the problem by talking to real moms and dads who have children on the spectrum as well as teachers of autistic children. The team ideated on solutions and came to appropriate conclusions involving wearable technology and mobile displays. Sketching, graphic software, and 3D modeling software was used to explore the form of the final product and device/mobile architecture. The prompt was to create a universal design solution for a mother and her mildly autistic child, aimed at helping the child when he struggles socially and behaviorally. The solution aids autistic children in communicating how they feel, which is usually difficult for them to express, and helps parents gain a better understanding of their child, thus a greater ability to help their child. Zone has two components: a watch that the child wears and a corresponding app for a parent’s and teacher’s mobile device. Sensors on the underside of the watch utilize skin conductance technology to detect stress, a physical indicator of emotional outbursts. When stress is detected, and after the child is calm, he/she answers a series of questions prompted on the watch screen. This data is recorded in a database located on the parent’s mobile app. Within the app parents can access the history of outbursts, including outburst causes and intensity, and can receive live-updates when their child becomes stressed. Teachers can also stay connected and have the ability to make their own notes to add insight when outbursts occur. This offers a new way to track short-term and long-term behavioral development of children with autism.

Why this project is worthy of a UX Award:

Some methods for helping a child with autism include becoming an expert on the child, looking for nonverbal cues to communicate, understanding needs and sensory sensitivities, as well as making time for fun and rewarding good behavior. Our project is a solution for people affected by ASDs, the fastest growing developmental disability in the US. Zone creates a simple network that enables communication, fosters understanding, and lessens frustration. It is a unique and strategic solution for the smaller percent of people usually left out of innovative design and problem solving. When not in use, the Zone watch is a friendly, fun, and colorful digital timepiece for kids; wearing this watch would not call attention to an autistic child’s struggles. This solution is also nonintrusive to a classroom environment where individual and group work between children takes place. Bold text and simple graphics are designed so that a child with autism can easily understand what is presented and prompted on the watch screen. Customizable questions aid the child in describing causes of stress, which in turn reduces stress from attempts to verbally communicate their emotions. The application architecture for parents is intuitive and highly accessible, and the app makes it easy to share information with doctors and therapists. The app gives parents insight to their child's daily struggles, and the abilities to stay connected and communicate give parents piece of mind when they cannot be watching over their child. Overall, the Zone provides a usable solution and positive user experience for a specific group of people.

Submitted By: 2nd Year Industrial Design Students at Virginia Tech

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