A UBC student has won a prestigious global competition after creating a wearable device to track anxiety in real-time for children with autism.

Andrea Palmer

UBC mechanical engineer student Andrea Palmer. (UBC Public Affairs)

The device, called Reveal, will measure a person's heart rate, skin temperature and sweat levels. If the person's anxiety level is heightened, it will send a notification to the caregiver's smart phone so that they can intervene and prevent a meltdown.

"We want to reduce problem behavior and increase the amount of what we call, teachable moments," said Andrea Palmer, a UBC mechanical engineering student.

Palmer designed the device alongside three business students and two other engineers. They were originally looking at how to prevent people with high stress jobs from burning out, but then realized their research could have great potential helping people with autism.

Since many people with autism have heightened sensitivity levels, Palmer wants to integrate the device directly into clothing so it will be completely imperceptible.

Autism Device

If the device detects heightened anxiety levels, it will send a notification to a caregiver's smart phone. (Awake Labs)

"We want them to be able to wear it without knowing it is there. In the long run we want to be able to present the information to them to help become self-regulating, so they can see when they are starting to get anxious," said Palmer.

Palmer's device was recognized by the Global Impact Competition as the most innovative proposal and most likely to have an impact in three to five years. Palmer said there are many uses for this device beyond autism, including PTSD and dementia.  

"It would have a huge impact at home, in the classroom or in daily routines," she said.

Winning the Global Impact competition earned Palmer a spot in Singularity University's Graduate studies program, which only accepts 80 students worldwide each year. This summer she'll spend the first part of the program in Silicon Valley accelerating the development of Reveal.


To listen to the full interview with Andrea Palmer, listen to the audio labelled Autism Anxiety Device