By Sonya Rehman
Taking home third prize at the Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) Tech-I Startup Competition held at Stanford University this year, WonderTree, a Pakistani start-up from Karachi, is on the road to aiding children with special needs by way of its thoroughly interactive augmented reality games.
For Muhammad Usman, the start-up’s co-founder and Chief Technical Officer, the birth of WonderTree swiftly took shape in 2015, when he saw his older brother (born with special needs) enjoying playing a game on his PlayStation. “It was then when all the dots connected and I realized what I wanted to do,” Usman stated.
Working closely with special education teachers, occupational therapists and psychologists, the start-up has currently developed four games that are best suited for children with autism, down syndrome, cerebral palsy, ADHD, and other mental disabilities.
With just a kinect v2 sensor, a television and a laptop as the only hardware required to play the games, WonderTree’s technology assists in developing motor, cognitive and functional skills for children with learning disabilities. But that’s not all; the start-up’s games feature an in-built reporting system which helps the developers track and document each child’s performance.
“We’re working on ways of using this data to build AI (artificial intelligence) into our games,” Usman said, speaking of WonderTree’s upcoming plans, “So in the future; our games will be able to adjust the difficulty levels and other settings as per the child’s needs, progress and disability. This will make our games highly efficient. We’re really excited about this.”
Having collaborated with a special school in Karachi (Rangoonwala Special School) and Special Olympics Pakistan last year, where special needs students and athletes tested out the start-up’s technology, WonderTree is currently in talks with seven other schools in the city to evaluate the effectiveness of its games.
“We’re also collaborating with the Institute of Professional Psychology (IPP) for feedback and improvement on our games,” stated the Chief Executive Officer, Muhammad Waqas, who also mentioned the recent MOU between WonderTree and the Network of Organizations Working with People with Disabilities, Pakistan (NOWPDP) to further assess the start-up’s technology.
“Our team is small, but we’re working hard to make our games available and accessible to everyone,” Waqas said, “Very soon our games will be available for download through our website or through the Windows store. So anyone with a laptop, a kinect sensor (which can be bought from stores or ordered online) and an internet connection, can download our games that benefit special children.”
While still only in its beta stage, the team hopes to redefine special education in Pakistan on a large scale. “We know that the prerequisite hardware is not cheap, but it’s still a better solution compared to the unavailability of trained psychologists, special educators and therapists in Pakistan,” stated Waqas, who mentioned that the start-up was focusing on decreasing the hardware requirement to increase affordability.
“We’re already tapping into local NGOs and plan on approaching the government too,” he said, “But we cannot do this task alone. Our specialty lies in creating a turnkey, cheaper and effective solution for special education and therapy. Implementation is another ball game and we’ll need all the help we can get.”