Officials with the Office of Naval Research are supporting the development of a smartphone application that may help to screen for autism in children -- and, down the road, may identify symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury in war veterans.
The technology in play is an algorithm that maps landmarks on faces and assesses emotional responses based on facial movements, officials said in a news release.
"We analyze the video to track position and movement of the head and face, including the lips, eyes and nose--all of which indicate emotions," said the algorithm's developer, Duke University professor Dr. Guillermo Sapiro, in the release. "For example, while watching stimuli like a funny video, does the child smile, look toward the caregiver or ask the caregiver to view the video as well? We study all of that. Lack of emotion and social sharing are possible characteristics of childhood autism."
While the technology is still being developed, Sapiro says he hopes to make a version of the app tailored to read facial expressions indicating the presence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI) and depression. The release notes that those with PTSD or depression may smile often, but those smiles are short and appear forced.
"We hope to find the right partner and develop a research app studying PTSD," Sapiro said. "We've already received interest from a nearby Veterans Affairs center about using this technology in veterans' homes to monitor behavior for signs of depression."
For now, the app, called "Autism and Beyond" is available from the Apple app story. Duke University is seeking families to participate in a six-month medical research study to test the effectiveness of the app and the algorithm.