Skip navigation

Calls to Action

Autism screening app gets funding from U.S. Navy; praise from Apple

March 21, 2016

An Apple autism app, created by researchers at Duke University, recently received funding from the United States Navy with hopes that it can eventually be used to find signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The app, "Autism & Beyond," plays 20-minute videos and uses the iPhone or iPad's built-in camera to scan viewers' facial expressions, analyze their microreactions, and then indicate if there's a potential risk of autism. The goal is to make the autism screening and diagnostic process more efficient by prioritizing high-risk children to help them see a doctor for a diagnosis sooner.

The app, which uses a general algorithm, could be expanded to PTSD to monitor people over time if speech and other signals are taken into account, the Associated Press reported.

"It can find patterns, not just in facial expressions but in different kinds of data sets, such as brain signals and speech, and it can be used on a continuous basis," Pedja Neskovic, who oversees the project in the Office of Naval Research, told AP.

Andy Shih, Autism Speaks senior vice president of scientific affairs, was involved in a working group discussion during the app's development. 

"This is an example of a growing trend in health research where emerging technologies and research methodologies, such as the mobile computing platform and crowd sourcing, are allowing us to address research questions at an unprecedented scale in collaboration with the community," Dr. Shih said.

The app also received special attention at the live Apple Product Event on March 21, where the company showed off the capabilities of the app and how doctors are using it to screen for autism.