MIAD Student-Designed Tech Would Allow Caregivers to Track Runaway Autistic Children

May 5, 2017

The Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design has a long history of connecting art students with industry. MIAD's signature program is the industrial design major, whose students have gone on to work for everyplace from GE Healthcare to Johnson Controls and companies around the world.

Christine Carr is about to graduate with a degree in industrial design, and her senior thesis features two projects that have one key inspiration in common: Carr’s six-year-old daughter, Lilly who has autism and is nonverbal.

Christine Carr with her daughter, Lilly.
Credit Courtesy of Christine Carr

"There are certain things that she is very uncomfortable about, for one reason or another. Of course, I don't know because she can't tell me," Carr explains. "So that really drove my curiosity to not only understand what she's going through, but I feel like us as a society need to understand what [people with autism are] going through a little more."

The first is a 3-D movie, which allows people who don’t have autism to understand what it’s like to be bombarded with stimuli. It utilizes 360 video, and it's Carr's first time creating a film using this type of camera. She hopes to fine-tune the film, but "I do see it as being something that could go into schools and be an educational tool," she adds. 

The second project is a unique way to track an autistic child who might wander off, called Nonni. "[It's] a drone device that would work as a home security system, basically," Carr explains. "We'd have to build it into your house and customize it to what the child needs, the house needs."

Nonni uses current technology, specifically the ZR300 Intel Real Sense camera, which Carr says is the "best facial recognition available right now." The camera allows a caregiver to visually assess basic, vital health and monitor a child to see if they've moved beyond the perimeter of the house. 

Credit Courtesy of MIAD

"It just sends an alert to the caregiver and if emergency is needed, it'll send a message to police or to ambulance, whatever the need is, but it's immediately,"she says. "It's not when the caregiver notices or all of a sudden realizes that they're missing. It's going to send an alert right away because the ZR300 camera actually now is devised for a smartphone, it's so small it can fit inside of a smartphone." 

Carr was inspired to create the project after reading a study by Autism Speaks, which found that 49% of autistic children wander away from home at least once, after the age of four. "That statistic just scared, scared me so much," she admits. 

"We don't have any technology right now to help families that are going through this, or have this worry in their mind," she explains. 

Christine working with her professor, John Caruso.
Credit Courtesy of MIAD

The conceptual technology involves a bladeless drone, which would house the Nonni camera and would perch on the house until a child or autistic person wanders into a restricted area. Nonni would utilize facial recognition to keep sight of the person in need, something Carr specifically designed for autistic children like her daughter, Lily. 

"One thing I do notice about my daughter and a lot of autistic children, people: they don't like to wear new things," says Carr. "They have their socks that they like to wear, they don't want to wear a bracelet, they don't want to wear a GPS tracker... And so I really feel like facial recognition is the way we have to go, especially with having such great technology right now. It's something that is definitely feasible."