New software concept may help with autism

09 July 2013

Assistive learning software to help autistic children recognise emotions from facial expressions recently won a UniServices Auckland prize in the annual Spark Ideas Challenge.

A team of students from the Master of Commercialisation and Entrepreneurship programme at The University of Auckland developed the commercialisation plan for a course project.  They worked with Dr Mark Sagar from the Auckland Bioengineering Institute’s Laboratory of Animate Technology on his facial recognition software that could have many applications. Dr Sagar’s software has seen him become an Academy Award winner from his work on movies such as Avatar and King Kong.

“From many possibilities for commercialisation, we narrowed it down to this one, that we dubbed LearnEmotion, and developed a commercialisation strategy for it,” says LearnEmotion team leader, Graeme Finch who is also Business Development Manager at the Research Centre for Advanced Composite Materials at the University’s Tamaki campus.

LearnEmotion is a novel digital application based on an ‘emotional engine’ technology that was developed by Dr Sagar to assist children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This learning disorder can lead to behavioural problems in social situations because the individual doesn’t recognise social cues.  ASD sufferer usually lack the ability to read other people’s emotions or to relate to people.  They also often have a fixation with inanimate objects which is why a computer based application helps.

“The LearnEmotion application has the potential to establish a strong connection with the child, assisting them to recognise the expression of emotion in others and training them to express emotion”, he says.  “This helps not only the child, but also their wider family group, to better manage relationships.”

“The LearnEmotion software programme aims to assists people with ASD to recognise emotion from facial expressions." says Graeme. "It fills a gap in the market of a reasonably priced tool that parents can easily access for their child.”

He says there is a well-recognised global need for effective ASD treatment that doesn’t involve drugs or specialist staff. 

“We are still refining the product concept, so that it is attractive to the parents of autistic children, so talking to the parents is an important part of our market validation.”


For more information contact:

Suzi Phillips, Media Relations Advisor,

Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences,

Communications, The University of Auckland.


Tel +64 9 373 7599 ext 87383 or Mob 021416396