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.

The Top 25 Bestselling E-Books on Amazon Right Now

Is she reading Harry Potter for the 15th time?
Is she reading Harry Potter for the 15th time?
grinvalds/iStock via Getty Images

Right now, the ability to access books on your tablet or phone—without leaving your house or waiting days for an order to arrive in the mail—seems more magical than ever. With just about every book at your fingertips, however, it might be a little difficult to decide which one to choose.

You could ask for recommendations from friends and family, or use this website, which specializes in personalized reading lists based on books you’ve already read and loved. Or you could check out Amazon’s current list of bestselling e-books—updated by the hour—to see what the general population just can’t get enough of. As of this morning (March 31), Elle Marr’s highly anticipated thriller The Missing Sister sits in the number one spot; since its publication date isn’t until April 1, that means it’s gotten to the top of the list on pre-orders alone.

There are several other riveting thrillers on the list, including Dean Koontz’s latest, In the Heart of the Fire, and Christopher Greyson’s murder mystery The Girl Who Lived. Plenty of other genres are well-represented, too, from Stephen R. Covey’s classic self-help book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to Jory John’s charming children’s story The Bad Seed.

And, of course, it would hardly seem like a bestseller list if Harry Potter didn’t make an appearance or two. According to this data, more than a few people are spending their quarantine time reading (or re-reading) J.K. Rowling’s beloved series—Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets are at number seven and number 17, respectively.

Look through March 31’s top 25 below:

  1. The Missing Sister by Elle Marr // $5
  1. Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis // $13
  1. Wall of Silence by Tracy Buchanan // $5
  1. The Bad Seed by Jory John // $13
  1. The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms // $2
  1. Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah // $5
  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling // $9
  1. The Last Bathing Beauty by Amy Sue Nathan // $5
  1. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey // $6
  1. When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal // $5
  1. Rough Edge by Lauren Landish // $4
  1. The Library at the Edge of the World by Felicity Hayes-McCoy // $1
  1. If You Tell by Gregg Olsen // $2
  1. Now, Then, and Everywhen by Rysa Walker // $5
  1. The Girl Who Lived by Christopher Greyson // $10
  1. Rain Will Come by Thomas Holgate // $5
  1. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling // $9
  1. The Other Family by Loretta Nyhan // $5
  1. In the Heart of the Fire by Dean Koontz // $2
  1. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng // $10
  1. Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes by James Dean // $8
  1. The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson // $15
  1. Unlimited Memory by Kevin Horsley // $10
  1. Lift Her Up by T.S. Joyce // $1
  1. In an Instant by Suzanne Redfearn // $5

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

The World Health Organization Is Releasing a COVID-19 App to Combat Coronavirus Misinformation

WHO MyHealth is meant to help clear up misinformation surrounding the novel coronavirus.
WHO MyHealth is meant to help clear up misinformation surrounding the novel coronavirus.
MangoStar_Studio/iStock via Getty Images

As is the case with most crises, the novel coronavirus has become a breeding ground for misinformation. Because the disease is so new, there are a lot of unanswered questions surrounding it, but that hasn't stopped people from claiming to know how to treat, prevent, and detect COVID-19. In an effort to separate fact from fiction, the World Health Organization (WHO) is launching an app dedicated to sharing what we know and don't know about the virus, 9to5Google reports.

Named WHO MyHealth, the new app is a collaboration between former Google and Microsoft employees, WHO advisors and ambassadors, and other tech and health experts. Users will be able to compare their symptoms with those linked to COVID-19 and receive public health updates specific to their location. As of now, there are plans to invite people who have been either been diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19 to share their phone's location history to give experts a better idea of how the virus spreads.

WHO MyHealth, which is currently being built as open source, is set to roll out for Android and iOS on Monday, March 30. If you have questions about COVID-19 you need answered immediately, you can also access accurate and up-to-date information through the WHO's chatbot.

Any information regarding novel coronavirus should be met with skepticism when it can't be traced back to organizations like the WHO or the CDC—especially when it comes to supposed cures. No specific medication has been proven to treat or prevent COVID-19, so you shouldn't take advice from anyone claiming otherwise.

[h/t 9to5Google]

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