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Ulster Student Creates Innovative Autism App

9 August 2011

A University of Ulster student has created an innovative application to help parents and carers of children with autism. The easy to use ‘app’ MakeSense, which has been specifically designed to give autistic children greater independence, will be available to download later this summer from the official Apple App store.

Nineteen years old Kyle Davidson from Portavogie, who is studying Computing with Education, was one of three students from Ulster’s Coleraine campus to win a coveted place on Northern Ireland’s first ever ‘App camp’. From an original entry of over 100, eight undergraduates from across Northern Ireland were selected by leading IT company, Kainos, to take part in an intensive two month ‘App camp’ with an opportunity to design, develop and launch their own applications (apps) for Apple’s iconic iPhone and iPad. 

Kyle, whose younger brother Bailey is autistic, says that while the inspiration for his app came from wanting to create something specifically to help make his brother’s life a little easier and encourage greater independence, the app would be useful for any family affected by autism.  

“I wanted to create a series of simple but effective guides to help Bailey manage ordinary day to day events such as using public transport, going out with friends or even dealing with school life. These are all very straightforward and easy things to do but for someone with autism, they can sometimes be quite challenging and stressful.  

“The app is designed to allow parents or carers create their own informative content for the autistic user. For example if someone wanted to create a guide for their child’s first day at secondary school, they could take pictures of the school, the corridors, the classrooms, the cafeteria – any images to help make the new surroundings seem more familiar. The app will allow plenty of scope for creativity – they could even record their own videos or sound showing how to select and pay for lunch or take books from the library.” 

Kyle says he has ideas on how to develop the app further by being able to place references to the created guides on the iPhone’s map similar to the pin dropping system used to mark locations. The user could then be notified of nearby guides relevant to the iPhones location. “For example sending an alert,  "You're beside the hairdressers, your brother made a guide for that if you want to get your hair cut" and he could open it. I thought this would be a good way to encourage independence and learning in a less intimidating way since the help he needs is literally in his own hands.”  

Kyle is delighted with the initial response to his proposed app.

“NAS Newtownards - the local branch of the National Autism Society - has asked me to showcase the application when it is completed and the TalkAboutAutism network also have shown interest in promoting it.” 

The app will be initially be free to download to enable Kyle to use customer feedback to make improvements. 

“It will be priced very competitively though when it goes on sale - most likely in the £2-3 price range and considerably less than other Autism apps which can sell for around £100. In addition 50% of the profit from app sales will go back into various Autism charities and the rest will go towards maintenance and improvement of the app, add Kyle.

Kyle adds that he is really appreciative of the opportunity to work with such a highly experienced and skilled team of developers at Kainos.  “The App camp was practical in nature and I certainly have learnt a lot which will hopefully help when it comes to looking for a job after graduation.”

Tom Gray, Chief Technology Officer at Kainos says: “This exciting new programme is designed specifically to hothouse the brightest and best new, raw talent. This is a fantastic way to engage with bright, young undergraduates by finding out first-hand what they have to offer, and helping them hone and shape their skills for commercial success."

By the end of the summer, the ‘App Campers will be able to launch their new apps on the official Apple App Store. They will also get an Apple Macbook and iPod Touch to help them to carry on their development work once they return to University in the autumn. 

To follow the blog detailing the programming and development of MakeSense go

Kyle Davidson Portavogie