Sher­brooke com­pany de­vel­ops dig­i­tal autism as­sis­tant

Sherbrooke Record - - FRONT PAGE - By Gor­don Lam­bie

Sher­brooke-based com­pany Hopchild Tech­nolo­gies was the re­cip­i­ent of $200,000 in fi­nan­cial aid from the Pro­vin­cial Gov­ern­ment on Mon­day to sup­port a $682,000 re­search and de­vel­op­ment project aimed at im­prov­ing the lives of chil­dren liv­ing with Autism Spec­trum Dis­or­ders. The com­pany, which was founded in 2016, aims to sup­port chil­dren on the autism spec­trum and their fam­i­lies through projects in­te­grat­ing ad­vanced mod­ern tech­nol­ogy such as robotics, mi­cro­elec­tron­ics, and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence.

Diane Groleau, Pres­i­dent of Hopchild Tech­nolo­gies, and her part­ner, Marc-an­toine Pel­letier, pre­sented the com­pany's project as a part of the fund­ing an­nounce­ment, ex­plain­ing that the work com­bines wear­able sen­sors, an in­ter­ac­tive dig­i­tal avatar, and a net­worked data­base of read­ings in an ef­fort to mea­sure be­havioural trends in chil­dren with autism spec­trum dis­or­ders.

“It builds a global im­age and aware­ness of the child's re­ac­tions to the world around him,” Pel­letier said, de­scrib­ing the project as a one-stop dig­i­tal health­care sys­tem.

The project part­ner said that Hopchild worked at first with ro­bots de­signed by a com­pany in France to be the user-in­ter­face, the as­pect of the dig­i­tal health­care sys­tem that chil­dren would in­ter­act with. That ap­proach, how­ever, made the sys­tem costly and in­ac­ces­si­ble. In­stead, the in­ter­face is now a dig­i­tal im­age that can be loaded onto a tablet or smart­phone, com­bined with a wear­able sen­sor de­vice sim­i­lar in size and shape to a wrist­watch. The char­ac­ter on the screen in­ter­acts with the user in var­i­ous ways based on heart rate read­ings from the sen­sor and the user's own re­sponses to ques­tions. Data from the in­ter­ac­tions is then stored in the data­base and can be used to ob­serve trends in ag­i­ta­tion and phys­i­cal health over time.

Ac­cord­ing to Groleau, the hope is that with enough time and data, in­di­vid­u­als, their fam­i­lies, and their health­care providers will be able to use the in­for­ma­tion in a pre­dic­tive way to help avoid melt­downs and im­prove so­cial in­te­gra­tion.

“This is a project catered to the needs of the in­di­vid­ual,” the Pres­i­dent said, not­ing that the move from ro­bots to a dig­i­tal avatar means that the char­ac­ter chil­dren in­ter­act with could be cus­tom­ized to be more mean­ing­ful for them, if de­sired.

The project was praised by the Pro­vin­cial Gov­ern­ment both for its in­no­va­tive use of tech­nol­ogy and for its ef­forts to im­prove the lives and lower the costs for fam­i­lies liv­ing with Autism Spec­trum Dis­or­ders.

“Thanks to this ini­tia­tive, health­care pro­fes­sion­als will be bet­ter equipped and will have ac­cess to dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies well suited to help­ing young autis­tic chil­dren in our re­gion and across the prov­ince,” said Saint-fran­cois MNA Guy Hardy. “We are proud to sup­port the suc­cess of this im­por­tant project.”

Hop-child’s dig­i­tal health­care sys­tem is about to be­gin a three year “liv­ing lab­o­ra­tory” stage in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Giant Steps school in Mon­treal, dur­ing which its ef­fec­tive­ness will be eval­u­ated in a real-world set­ting. At the end of that time, the com­pany hopes to see its project reach the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion.

GOR­DON LAM­BIE

Marc-an­toine Pel­letier and Diane Groleau of Hop-child Tech­nolo­gies with Saint-fran­cois MNA Guy Hardy

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