Samsung teaches emotions

The company's work with Autism Speaks Canada and the "Look at Me" app evolves into a new, awareness-driving phase.

Samsung Canada is hoping to drive awareness around the benefits of its “Look at Me” project for families living with autism.

“Look at Me” is a free app that utilizes both the front- and back-facing cameras on Samsung mobile devices to turn things like making eye contact, recognizing emotions and mimicking facial expressions into games. Children with autism can play the games by themselves or with family members to improve their comfort with social and emotional skills, as research has shown they often have an easier time interacting with digital devices than other people.

The “Look at Me” app was first launched by Samsung in its home base in South Korea last year in partnership with local experts. Samsung Canada is the first international arm of the company to launch a project around “Look at Me” outside of Korea, beginning in December through a partnership with Autism Speaks Canada and Dr. Anthony Bailey at the University of British Columbia to localize the app for Canadians. Autism Speaks also helped Samsung identify 200 families across Canada that received a donated Galaxy S tablet pre-loaded with the app.

“What’s cool is that our tech is what’s making that bridge between these kids and the people in their lives,” says Mark Childs, CMO at Samsung Canada. “The kids learn in the early stages of the app to first make contact with themselves with the front-facing camera, then they make contact with family and friends through the other camera, and they learn about expressions and emotions as part of that.”

To prove that benefit, Samsung Canada has released a video featuring 17-year-old Caitlin and her mother Cynthia, who had one of the “Look at Me” tablets given to them. It shows that since she began using the app, Caitlin has begun laughing and smiling genuinely instead of simply mimicking it, something Cynthia says had never happened before.

A 30-second version, which features a special Mother’s Day message and drives to the longer video and the project page, is part of a campaign that is running until the end of June.

This is the beginning of what Childs refers to as “phase two” of the “Look at Me” project in Canada. In the first phase, the company was taking it slow, deploying the app and learning about the autism community. This learning has come through the partnership with Austim Speaks but also through a closed Facebook group of the 200 participating families.

Now, Samsung is focusing on getting word out about the app, which is now optimized for use on eight different Samsung phones and tablets, with more to come.

“Our plan was always to do two phases and walk before we run, but I don’t think we expected to see this impact and the stories we’re hearing,” Childs says. “We’ve heard enough of them to know this is something that could potentially help even more families and give them some hope.”

Childs says the company doesn’t know what its work in the autism space looks like long-term, but it is working with Autism Speaks to figure that out.

“Hope for Children is already very entrenched with us, and that work is going to continue,” Childs says, referring to Samsung’s CSR platform that sees it raise funds and awareness for child-focused organizations like SickKids. “But these last few months have also entrenched our relationship with Autism Speaks Canada and the broader community.”