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Autism Speaks and Core77 Magazine name winners of 'Autism Connects' design challenge

New York, N.Y. (May 4, 2011) Autism Speaks, the world's largest autism science and advocacy organization in partnership with Core77, today announced the top awards for "Autism Connects", the international student design competition powered by jovoto The innovative designs by student competitors selected by a juried panel demonstrate creative technology solutions for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to better connect with the world around them, and allow individuals who do not have ASD to better understand and connect with those who do. The top prize is awarded to Greg Katz and Tom Rim, both from University of Illinois College of Fine and Applied Arts Industrial Design, Urbana-Champaign, Chicago, Illinois, for Gobug. Second place, for weSYNC was awarded to Noel Cunningham and the third place prize for Visual Watch was awarded to Cameron Zotter, both from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore, Maryland. "These innovations in technology are examples of the next frontier in finding solutions to improve daily life for individuals with autism," stated Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geraldine Dawson, PhD., "These students from over 30 countries around the world represent the next generation of designers and innovators who will think creatively on how to apply technology to autism."

The Gobug is an interactive toy designed to facilitate an inclusive social learning experience for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Individuals of all ages and abilities are welcome to join, play, and learn. Gobug is operated through the combined direction of multiple active controllers and the more in sync the controllers are, in the same pointed direction, the faster Gobug moves. "The Autism Connects Competition provided us a challenge that was truly purpose driven," stated Gobug's winning co-designer Greg Katz. "There's meaning to something like this. It's a purpose that you feel in your heart. There are so many incredible individuals with ASD. We only hope that our concept work (Gobug) can make a positive difference in someone's life." Tom Rim, who also co-designed Gobug added, "During the 'Autism Connects' competition, we realized that this is a global effort. It requires people from all over to contribute and do their part. It's important that students like us understand that design is more than just about making something look sleek or fashionable. Design is about providing the user with an enhancing experience. In this case, the user is an individual that deserves every bit as much attention as next."

weSYNC helps children with Autism Spectrum Disorder who have rigid schedules to work with different therapists, doctors, and educators on a daily basis. An application for the iPad, iPhone, and Web, weSYNC creates a specialized profile for the individual with ASD, gathers knowledge from each caregiver and establishes a centralized location where it can be accessed and edited by everyone. Establishing a dialogue among doctors, therapists, teachers and parents allows them to share information and reinforce one another's efforts.

Visual Watch is a time management and picture exchange communication system (PECS) tool designed specifically for people with ASD which addresses both time management and the need for a more mobile PECS communication system. This device to be worn on a wrist replaces a bulky notebook of PECS picture cards and new communication pictures can be uploaded to the watch for the user to develop an extensive vocabulary.

Allan Chochinov, partner of Core77, the New York-based design network serving a global community of designers and design enthusiasts who co-sponsored the competition, remarked on the breadth of the submissions, "We were incredibly impressed with the wide diversity of solutions, and with the overall rigor of the designers' efforts. From individuals to group submissions, it was evident that the participants took the subject very seriously, applied diligence to their design responses, and demonstrated the unique power of design to re-imagine possibilities. We are proud to have produced this competition, and are extremely grateful to our community of designers for their passion and commitment."

These top juried student innovators will travel to the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) in San Diego May 12-14 to attend sessions with over 1900 scientists and autism advocates from countries around the world, and present their design concepts at the annual IMFAR Technology Demonstration session sponsored by Autism Speaks. These top three prizes were selected from a field of 126 submissions in this first-ever "Autism Connects" competition, selected by a panel of judges including renowned advocates and authors Temple Grandin and John Elder Robison; Yves Bhar, the founder of the San Francisco and New York-based integrated design agency fuseproject; Lisa Strausfeld, partner in Pentagram, the distinguished international design consultancy; Richard Seymour, co-founder of internationally renowned design and innovation company Seymourpowell; developmental and clinical psychologist Peter Mundy, Ph.D.; the nationally recognized entrepreneur Dan Feshbach; Dr. Peter Gerhardt, Director of Education - Upper School for the McCarton School in New York City; Autism Speaks Vice President of Scientific Affairs Andy Shih, Ph.D., and Professor in the Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology and Special Education, and Director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research and Collaboration in Autism (CIRCA) at the University of British Columbia, Pat Mirenda.

Autism Connects judge Temple Grandin reflected on how she personally could have benefited from technology, "Technology can be very useful. iPads and other tablet computers would be easy for people with autism to type on and are affordable and portable. It would have been very useful for me to have a program where I could look at videos of many different REAL people showing various facial expressions. They must be videos of real people and not cartoons. I need to be able to see what each facial expression looks like on MANY videos of different real people such as men, women, and children."

The online competition was run by creative technology platform company jovoto who organized a separate judging by an online community of professionals, advocates and students. Six concepts were selected as Community Prize winners, including Gobug from Greg Katz and Tom Rim, again in first place; second community favorite Communicating through Music by Cande Mosse from FADU (Facultad de Arquitectura, Diseo y Urbanismo) at UBA (Universidad de Buenos Aires) Industrial Design; third and fourth community favorites Visual Watch and Line-up Facial Recognition Game from Cameron Zotter, from the Maryland Institute College of Art Graphic Design MFA in Baltimore MD; weSYNC was the fifth community favorite by Noel Cunningham a first year graduate student from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA); and Bearhug by Lisa Fraser from the Emily Carr University of Art + Design in British Columbia.


Contact: Jane E. Rubinstein
Autism Speaks

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