Virtual reality helps kids on the autism spectrum navigate the airport

Posted at 4:35 PM, Jul 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-05 16:05:18-04

Update Sept. 5: You can download the program here.

The airport can be an overwhelming experience, especially for children with sensory issues.

"Especially for a child on the spectrum, one of the things I think they struggle to understand the rules of the environment, so they're overwhelmed by all these things coming in, the sights and the sounds," said Anthony Ellertson, director of the Gaming, Interactive Media and Mobile Technology lab.

Students are working on a virtual reality experience that walks a child through the Boise Airport.

"Here the TSA agent is explaining that, 'unfortunately, we can't see exactly what's in the bag, so we need to pull the suitcase aside and go through it,'" explains student Maddie Shoemaker.

It's helping from every angle.

"We're shooting six different videos at once, and then we have to take those videos and stitch them all together," said student Jonathan Gaige.

The Boise Airport already has an event called Wings for Autism, where children on the spectrum can get a practice run at boarding a plane, but that's just one day. This technology can help kids on all the other days of the year.

"This allows other children within the community to use this technology to be able to go through that experience virtually so the next time they fly it's more of a familiar environment and it's less stressful for them," said Sean Briggs, marketing manager for Boise Airport.

GIMM lab students also reach out to medical professionals to see how to make their technology most effective.

"There is a growing need for virtual learning and virtual therapy environments in the healthcare industry," said student Michael Chaves. "I'm a father with a child with down syndrome, so I definitely see that there's a need for more of these extra programs."

That's something Boise State continues to work towards.

"It is so much more than just video games now, but a realm that can really truly help people," said Shoemaker.

The GIMM Lab video footage featured in this news piece was Produced/Edited/Created by Michael Chaves, Maddie Shoemaker, Jonathan Gaige, Justin Peters and Tyler Chapman.