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VR as a sensory stimulation tool for adolescents with ASD and anxiety

Amaya Keys, Howard University

Week One:

As a pleasant start to the program, I met the other students I’d be spending the next eight weeks with over a fun night of bowling. On Monday morning, we briefly met with our mentors via Zoom following an in-depth tour of Hunter College’s facilities. My mentor, Mr. Daniel Chan, recommended that we keep in mind the scope of the project and not to overextend ourselves with a wildly complex project for only 8 weeks. To me specifically, he suggested that I pick one specific disability, do thorough research on it, and from there decide on how a VR/AR application may help. I met with him one-on-one twice during the week to receive guidance on all of the jumbled thoughts racing through my mind. After bouncing from idea to idea, I finally landed on the development of a virtual multi-sensory stimulation room for adolescents with ASD that experience anxiety. To close out the week, we completed a short lab on ParaView, decided on a conference that we would submit our research to at the end of the summer, briefly reviewed our updated project proposals, and then finally got a sneak peek into the VR lab. Now that my project is solidified, I hope to dive into experimenting with Unity, as I know I have a steep learning curve ahead of me. 

Week Two:

To start off the week, I finished the remaining modules of my CITI training so that I could solely focus on writing my literature review. I also received one of Dr. Wole’s VR Meta Quest headsets to take home and begin experimenting with. I attempted to set it up to my computer and phone on my own as well as deploy Unity but experienced many challenges. Later in the week, Kwame assisted me with the set-up process, and we ran an escape room demo to test its functioning. Following successful set-up, I worked to enable hand tracking on the headset and test another demo but ran into further difficulties that I am still working to resolve.  

I spoke with my mentor at our scheduled Tuesday meeting time, and we just ensured that I was feeling confident and secure in the direction my project was heading. Throughout the week I continued to take notes on various studies and worked to weed out the ones I felt were unnecessary to include in my paper. The first draft of my literature review was unnecessarily long and contained way too many sources that weren’t directly related to my research, but by Thursday night, I had finalized a version that I was happy with. I sent it to my mentor for feedback and while he had a few comments about potential changes, he was overall pretty satisfied with how it looked. On Friday, we conducted a brief lab on Tableau and updated Dr. Wole on the status of our projects.

Next steps for me include solidifying my methodology and making headway on the development of my sensory room. I intend to search through the Unity assets store and TurboSquid to hopefully find some ready-made elements for my project. Before anything else though, I definitely want to fix the errors with the hand tracking functionalities, as this will be a significant element of my application.

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