Student project: Mood-phone for Asperger's patients

Motorola has given an award to John Finan, who created a conceptual "mood-phone" that would help Asperger's Syndrome patients determine the mood of the people they're addressing. Asperger's Syndrome famously afflicts sufferers by impairing their ability to pick up on social cues, and the mood-phone would makes those cues explicit, thus enabling Asperger's patients to communicate more readily.

This week, I presented at the MOTOFWRD awards ceremony; the MOTOFWRD awards were given to students who created outstanding projects projecting the future of ubiquitous connectivity; I was privileged to serve as a judge.

The striking thing about the entries we received was how original they were, how unlike any product in the marketplace today. I think Motorola is onto something here: engineers and designers in their thirties (or even their twenties) don't have the in-the-bones sensibility that comes of growing up with cheap, universal wireless technology. The young people who entered the MOTOFWRD competition did a sterling job of going where it had never occurred to big tech companies to venture.

The winner (picking up a $10,000 scholarship, new Bluetooth-enabled car and apprenticeship with Motorola's Chief Technology Office) was John Finan, a Duke University graduate student, who came up with a "Mood Phone" that would be able to help "improve social interactions," especially for those suffering from Asberger's Syndrome, a mild form of autism. The technology would allow for a cellphone to light up in a bunch of different colors depending on what's being said. The warm red to cool blues would then let the user figure out the mood and inflection coming from whomever is speaking, depending on the words and phrases.