Soldiers draft to help people with autism

Current and former members of an Israel Air Force tech unit participate in unique hackathon to overcome challenges posed by autism. The unusual tech marathon was a joint effort between the Israeli Air Force’s elite Ofek (Horizon) technology unit and ALUT, the Israeli Association for Autistic Children.

Sarah and Avraham (not their real names) juggle high-tech careers with parenting an autistic child. It is never easy to find a babysitter for an evening out, let alone 24 hours away from home – but they managed to participate in a recent overnight hackathon hosted at the Tel Aviv offices of Playbuzz.



About 85 volunteers, including current and former members of the squad, gave up a night’s sleep to organize and participate in the event, whose purpose was to design projects that could ease the lives of autistic children, their families and therapists. Sponsors included IBM, Dell EMC, Samsung NEXT, mPrest Systems and Interblog.

Months of brainstorming among Ofek graduates and parents, counselors, professional therapists and ALUT staff members identified challenges such as understanding social situations and choosing an appropriate response; remembering how to accomplish everyday activities; and expressing emotions.

Sarah and Avraham’s team designed a prototype Emotion to Expression (e2e) app based on research that autistic children can be trained to imitate facial expressions conveying happiness, surprise, fear, disgust, anger and sadness.


Another challenge addressed at the hackathon was voice modulation. People on the autism spectrum tend to speak robotically and loudly, inadvertently causing tension and confrontation, Sarah explains.

In response, one of the hackathon teams designed a high-tech device that alerts the speaker to inappropriate patterns and allows him or her to adjust volume and pitch. The idea is that the constant feedback will train users to adjust without prompting.

Another project was a smart checklist that breaks down everyday tasks into ordered subcomponents, using audible alerts to prompt each action.

“For example, brushing teeth is broken down into small actions like opening the toothpaste tube. As the person gets used to performing each action independently, the list gets shorter,” Avraham says.

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