Alava - TVC Winners

RASL Members Win 2017 TechVenture Challenge

RASL members Nilanjan Sarkar and Joshua Wade took part in the 2017 TechVenture Challenge with their technology Alva: a gaze-sensitive driving simulator designed specifically for driving training in adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). The two were joined by veteran business mentor Kei Gowda and a team of Vanderbilt students from various departments including business, public policy, and engineering.

The TechVenture Challenge aims to provide both graduate and undergraduate students from a number of different disciplines with immersive, real-world commercialization experience. The pitch finals, which were held on April 13th in Nashville, consisted of five teams presenting their technologies. Team Alva took first place, earning a $3500 cash prize!

Alva, the novel technology, received attention last year from national media outlets (video above). A number of peer-reviewed journal articles based on the technology have recently been published:

  1. J. Wade, L. Zhang, D. Bian, J. Fan, A. Swanson, A. Weitlauf, M. Sarkar, Z. Warren, and N. Sarkar, “A Gaze-Contingent Adaptive Virtual Reality Driving Environment for Intervention in Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” ACM Transactions on Interactive Intelligent Systems (TiiS), vol. 6, p. 3, 2016.
  2. L. Zhang, J. Wade, D. Bian, J. Fan, A. Swanson, A. Weitlauf, Z. Warren, and N. Sarkar, “Cognitive Load Measurement in a Virtual Reality-Based Driving System for Autism Intervention,” IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing, vol. 8, pp. 176-189, 2017.
  3. J. Wade, A. Weitlauf, N. Broderick, A. Swanson, L. Zhang, D. Bian, M. Sarkar, Z. Warren, and N. Sarkar, “A Pilot Study Assessing Performance and Visual Attention of Teenagers with ASD in a Novel Adaptive Driving Simulator,” Journal of autism and developmental disorders, July 29 2017, DOI:
  4. J. Fan, J. Wade, A. Key, Z. Warren, and N. Sarkar, “EEG-based Affect and Workload Recognition in a Virtual Driving Environment for ASD Intervention,” IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, DOI: 10.1109/TBME.2017.2693157

Post Pic - HCII 2017

Recap of HCII 2017 in Vancouver

RASL members Huan Zhao and Dayi Bian presented two separate papers at this year’s Human Computer Interaction International (HCII) in Vancouver. Descriptions of both papers are given below.

Zhao, Huan, et al. “Design of a Tablet Game to Assess the Hand Movement in Children with Autism.” International Conference on Universal Access in Human-Computer Interaction. Springer, Cham, 2017.

Abstract: The high rate of atypical handedness and motor deficits among the children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have been repeatedly reported. Recently, tablet-assisted systems are increasingly applied to ASD interventions due to their potential benefits in terms of accessibility, cost and the ability to engage many children with ASD. In this paper, we propose the design of a tablet game system to assess the hand usage in movement manipulations of children with ASD. To play the games designed in this system, it requires good eye-hand coordination, precise and quick hand movements and cooperation with partners. The games can be played by one player using two hands or by two players each of whom using one hand. We present the system design and a small preliminary usability study that verified the system functionality in recording objective performance data for offline analysis of the hand usage of the players. Results showed that the proposed system was engaging to children with ASD and their TD (i.e. typically developing) peers, and could induce collaborative activities between them. The system was also shown to efficiently evaluate the usages of the dominant hand and the non-dominant hand of the users. We found that children with ASD showed different patterns of hand usage behaviors from the TD participants when using this system.

Bian, Dayi, et al. “Design of a Multisensory Stimulus Delivery System for Investigating Response Trajectories in Infancy.” International Conference on Universal Access in Human-Computer Interaction. Springer, Cham, 2017.

Abstract: Sensory processing differences, including auditory, visual, and tactile, are ideal targets for early detection of neurodevelopmental risk. However, existing studies focus on the audiovisual paradigm but ignore the sense of touch. In this work, we present a multisensory delivery system that can deliver audiovisual stimuli and precisely controlled tactile stimuli to infants in a synchronized manner. The system also records multi-dimensional data including eye gaze and physiological data. A pilot study of six 3–8 month old infants was conducted to investigate the tolerability and feasibility of the system. Results have shown that the system is well tolerated by infants and all the data were collected robustly. This work paves the way for future studies charting the meaning of sensory response trajectories in infancy.


Dayi and Josh Talk to Health Science Students about Autism Research

RASL members Dayi Bian and Josh Wade spoke to health science students at Glencliff High School on Wednesday. Many of the students are considering careers in healthcare, including roles in Psychology, Occupational Therapy, and Medicine. Research at RASL aims to address issues related to Autism Spectrum Disorder, as well as Schizophrenia, elder care, and mobility impairment.


Students were also encouraged to get a jump start on their career preparation by getting involved in free MOOCs, such as edX and Coursera, as well as participating in Vanderbilt University’s research opportunities for High School students, including Vanderbilt Summer Academy and Vanderbilt Center for Science Outreach.


Staffers in the Office of TN Senator Alexander Visit RASL

Dr. Sarkar describes the research currently being conducted at RASL. Left to right: Gabriella Ra’anan, Kayla McMurry, Mackensie Burt, and Nilanjan Sarkar.

RASL was visited Tuesday morning by staffers in the office of Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander. Projects Manager Mackensie Burt and Legislative Correspondent Kayla McMurry were accompanied by Vanderbilt’s Assistant Director of Federal Relations Gabriella Ra’anan.

A demonstration of RASL’s novel driving simulator.

Lab director Nilanjan Sarkar met with the group and discussed the role of RASL’s research in regards to intervention in neurodevelopmental disorders, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Schizophrenia. In addition, a demonstration of RASL’s novel driving simulator for ASD intervention was given.

Volunteer Jonathan is using the novel driving system. He is fitted with a variety of physiological and EEG sensors, and his eyes movements are monitored by a remote eye tracker.
Left to right: Mackensie Burt, Nilanjan Sarkar, and Kayla McMurry.


Dayi and Huan Present at HCII 2016 in Toronto

Huan - HCII 2016

RASL’s Dayi and Huan presented three conference papers at this year’s Human-Computer Interaction International conference held in Toronto, Ontario.

Dayi - HCII 2016

Find the presented papers below:


RASL Driving Simulator for Autism Research Featured on NBC News


One of RASL’s ongoing projects was featured nationwide on NBC News this week. See the local coverage here, and Vandy Research News’s coverage below.

This work has also been recognized by Autism Speaks (video above) and is discussed in detail in several publications: