How High School Students Are Using VR to Help People With Autism

Samsung U.S. Newsroom
Samsung U.S. Newsroom

A new virtual reality app developed by high school students at Michigan's Kent Career Tech Center is designed to work a little differently than most VR experiences. Created to help people with autism practice social interactions, the still-unnamed app eases users into the virtual reality experience at their own pace, instead of bombarding them with immersive sounds and visuals as soon as they slip on the headset.

Users start out with multiple options designed to help them feel comfortable. First, they can choose to enter a comic strip where they can read static panels, rather than immediately being thrown into an interactive scene. Then, once they've grown comfortable with that, they can move on to view an animated version of the situation. The final option takes full advantage of the virtual reality technology, placing them directly in the story.

The VR app was one of 10 student-led projects pitched at the final round of the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest in New York City on April 8. Every year, Samsung challenges teams of students grades six through 12 to use STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) to tackle issues facing their own communities and beyond. The program "is a platform for students to take something that's meaningful to them and create the change they aspire to see in the world," Ann Woo, Samsung's senior director of corporate citizenship, tells Mental Floss.

For their project, the students at Kent Career Tech Center chose to focus on an issue they could observe firsthand at their own school. To develop their software, they collaborated with a behavioral expert and teachers familiar autism spectrum disorder as well as a local tech company. At each step of the way, Kent students with autism were able to test the app and provide feedback to the team.

"We want to cover the entire spectrum of autism," Ashton Charron, one of the app's creators, tells Mental Floss. "We wanted to create a highly interactive version, but we also wanted to create versions that were slightly less overwhelming. We wanted to make it very easy to step into.”

The final product gives users a chance to test out social experiences in a comfortable, controlled environment. "You’ll be in a scenario where you’re in a class sitting down. You want to raise your hand and ask a question, but you don’t really know how to or that you need to," Donovan Fletcher, one of the students who presented the project, says. "Practicing these situations in advance allows people to become more confident, comfortable, and productive."

That VR experience isn't limited to users on the autism spectrum. Kent student Astron Charron says trying out the software could be beneficial to anyone. "People who don’t have autism can plug into the VR and understand a little bit more of what it’s like for people who do," she says. "It gives everybody on the outside a chance to look in and see through another person's eyes."

Other ideas that made it to the final round of Samsung's competition include football helmets that detect concussions, sensors that deploy water barriers during floods, and energy-efficient window shades that cool schools without AC. While Kent's app wasn't among the three winners to earn $150,000 in Samsung products for their school, the students are still optimistic about the product's potential. "The future of this thing is huge," Ashton says.

Amazon Customers Are Swearing by a $102 Mattress

Linenspa
Linenspa

Before you go out and spend hundreds—if not thousands—of dollars on a new mattress, you may want to turn to Amazon. According to Esquire, one of the most comfortable mattresses on the market isn’t from Tempur-Pedic, Casper, or IKEA. It’s a budget mattress you can buy on Amazon for as little as $102.

Linenspa's 8-inch memory foam and innerspring hybrid mattress has more than 24,000 customer reviews on Amazon, and 72 percent of those buyers gave it five stars. The springs are topped by memory foam and a quilted top layer that make it, according to one customer, a “happy medium of both firm and plush.”

Linenspa

Perhaps because of its cheap price point, many people write that they first purchased it for their children or their guest room, only to find that it far exceeded their comfort expectations. One reviewer who bought it for a guest room wrote that “it is honestly more comfortable than the expensive mattress we bought for our room.” Pretty impressive for a bed that costs less than some sheet sets.

Getting a good night's sleep is vital for your health and happiness, so do yourself a favor and make sure your snooze is as comfortable as possible.

The mattress starts at $102 for a twin and goes up to $200 for a king. Check it out on Amazon.

[h/t Esquire]

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Anti-Spam App Unsubscribes You From Mailing Lists—and Can Even Get You Paid for the Bother

He can't believe how uncluttered his email inbox is.
He can't believe how uncluttered his email inbox is.
Andrea Piacquadio, Pexels

Keeping newsletters and sale e-blasts from piling up in your inbox can sometimes seem as labor-intensive as weeding a literal garden. And for every mailing list you successfully manage to remove yourself from, there’s another one that you inexplicably end up on.

Fortunately, you can outsource the unsubscribing process to a robot. According to WIRED, the service is available through DoNotPay, an app that helps users dispute parking tickets, claim compensation for airfare, sign up for free trials without using their own credit card information, sue companies in small claims courts, and crawl through a variety of other red tape in the easiest, most automatic way possible.

Instead of figuring out how to unsubscribe to each unwanted email, you just forward the email to spam@donotpay.com, and a bot will do it for you. Unlike similar services, DoNotPay doesn’t require access to your whole email account, and it won’t turn around and sell your data to a third party. What it will do is search to see if there’s a class action settlement against whatever company sent the email—if there is, you can have DoNotPay add your name to it, and you’ll get compensated if you’re eligible.

“When I looked at other spam solutions, either they were selling your data or you still had to give carte blanche access to your email, and it was very expensive,” DoNotPay founder and CEO Joshua Browder told WIRED. “These companies are meant to protect your emails and protect your privacy, and it’s so ironic that they do the exact opposite. So we set out to build a service that doesn’t sell your data and also has this added component of getting compensation by matching you to class action settlements.”

A subscription to DoNotPay costs $3 per month, which includes its entire range of services (in other words, there are plenty of opportunities to earn back more than those few dollars). You can find out more and subscribe here.

[h/t WIRED]