It’s always great to see emerging tech being used to make a difference. Floreo is working to put together VR content to help children with autism. Vijay Ravindran, one of the founders, shared with us their story so far.

The Floreo app in action on the left and a screenshot of the faciliator's view on the right

The Floreo app in action on the left and a screenshot of the facilitator’s view on the right

It is great to see more and more VR applications that aim to make the world a better place. We’ve featured both Taryn Southern and Annie Harper for their efforts, and Floreo is very deserving of a feature too! Floreo is an early stage startup that is developing VR-based autism therapy.

“Our goal is to create an ever-growing catalog of therapy content for the autism community that is backed by science.” — Vijay Ravindran

Vijay and his wife are parents of a child on the autism spectrum and say they had an “Aha” moment the first time their child tried out VR. From that point on, they started developing an early concept. They took this early prototype to a local area hospital’s autism centre and got some pretty positive feedback with the hospital encouraging them to keep going with it. As we can see, they’ve done just that!

A child's view in the app of an elephant

A child’s view in the app, they’re about to watch the elephant dance!

Another incredibly positive sign that this team are onto something was at the “Huddle Up for Autism” event hosted by the Philadelphia Eagles. The Floreo team set up a demo table and were lucky enough to have hundreds of kids try out the app. Just like the positive feedback from the hospital, Vijay says that parents at the “Huddle Up for Autism” event gave a lot of motivational encouragement for them to continue on this idea. That’s definitely a sign that there just might be something in this concept.

A child trying Floreo with an adult watching with an iPad

Floreo in action at the Huddle Up for Autism event

At the moment, Floreo is still in development, with plans to start several pilots this summer in the US. Those pilots will trial their first two therapy modules with an autism school, autism therapy company and top-tier research institute. Those trials will help shape the future of the product as they seek to learn a lot from those trials. As with every VR product, testing it out with the intended audience is key. Putting it into the field and seeing how well it works, in reality, is the only way to truly test it. So it will be fascinating to see how the product develops from there.

VR has huge potential to make a difference in areas like therapy, as Vijay explains,

“The immersive environments create a teaching context that can’t be replicated in the real-world at a therapist office or at the home (where a lot of autism therapy can occur).” — Vijay Ravindran

The app itself provides one view for a parent or supervisor, who can follow along and guide the child through the experience, and a VR view for the child to explore. So the elephant screenshot from above looks like so for the adult:

A guidance screen for adult supervisors running the app with a child

A guidance screen for adult supervisors running the app with a child

It provides both a way to keep track of progress like never before and a way for parents to work with their children without needing quite as much training, Vijay points out that,

“The data collection opportunities are profound. And we have designed the application and the adult supervision console to allow parents and others who might not be professionally trained as a therapist to work with a child.”

They were even featured as Startup of the Week in the Washington Business Journal! So things are definitely going well for the team so far (very well deserved!).

Floreo's two views, one for the parent/facilitator and the VR view for the child

Floreo’s two views, one for the parent/supervisor and the VR view for the child

Risks of VR with children

One area I was curious about was how Floreo were handling the contentious topic of putting children into VR. The effects of VR on children is an area that has not been explored in depth just yet, but some early thoughts on the matter believe putting children into VR at too young an age could have negative effects. Vijay and the team at Floreo have actually taken a very considered and cautious approach to their platform with this in mind, which I think is very commendable! Their approach is as follows according to Vijay,

“Yes, this is very important. We’re only deploying within the recommended range of the VR platform, in our case 7 and above for Google Cardboard. And we’re designing the lessons to be less than 5 minutes so that therapy can start small and the supervising adult can then make decisions on how best to ramp up. We also have developed pre-screen guidelines and are advised by a developmental paediatrician. “

 

A huge thank you to Vijay for taking the time to share their story so far in helping treat autism with VR (and for the huge efforts into helping with such a valuable cause!). If you’d like to learn more about their project, check out Floreo’s website.

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