Popchilla's World is an iPad game designed to help children with Autism practice daily routines and social skills through play.
What is Popchilla’s World?
The CDC estimates that 1 in 88 children in the US has autism. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) struggle with communication and basic social skills. Popchilla’s World is an iPad game designed to help these children practice daily routines and social interactions in a fun and playful way.
In the game, a friendly creature named “Popchilla” needs the child’s help to navigate the world and complete simple activities like brushing Popchilla’s teeth, making Popchilla’s bed, or saying hello. As the child completes these activities they are rewarded with in-game achievements and new activities to explore.
A special “Grownups View” allows parents, therapists and other caregivers to track the child’s progress, personalize the activities and get recommendations for new activities to try. In the future, caregivers will be able to make their own activities and share them with other parents, therapists, and families.
Why an iPad game?
Research has shown that children with autism have an easier time interacting with technology and inanimate devices, than with people. In particular, many children with autism seem to strongly connect with touchscreen devices like the iPad.
Currently, children with autism practice daily routines and social interactions by reviewing scripted stories and picture books with their parents and therapists. With Popchilla’s World, we’re leveraging the connection between these children and technology to allow them to practice these skills through interactive play.
Who is making Popchilla’s World?
Popchilla’s World is being developed by Interbots, a small Pittsburgh-based startup that specializes in interactive robots and accompanying mobile apps.
About 18 months ago we did a pilot study with the Autism Center of Pittsburgh exploring the use of our Popchilla robot as an autism therapy tool. The results were very positive and since then we’ve been working on manufacturing a small run of Popchilla robots for the autism community. We've also been creating apps to help children with autism. Our apps are designed so that they’re fully playable on their own, but in the future when the Popchilla robot is available, the apps will interact with the robot. You can find our previous apps in the iTunes store – give them a try!
Everyone at Interbots is really passionate about creating technology that forms emotional connections with people. We’re very excited about developing robots and apps that have the potential to help children with autism.
Are you working with anyone in the autism community?
The autism community has been very supportive of our work with Popchilla. The Autism Center of Pittsburgh and Community Alternatives were both instrumental in our original pilot study. Currently the Popchilla robot is being used in a study at the Orelena Hawks Puckett Institute exploring the use of robots to help children with autism improve joint attention skills.
What will the funds be used for?
We’ve developed a prototype of Popchilla’s World and we need your help to expand it into a complete game. So far we’ve created two activities centered around waking up in the morning and brushing Popchilla’s teeth. Our fundraising goal will allow us to launch the app with a basic set of 6-8 activities that have been fully tested and validated. However, the more money we raise, the more activities we can develop. We'd also love to add additional locations like a classroom and playground!
After the game launches we'll continue to support it by regularly adding new activities.
How else will my pledge help the autism community?
By working together our backers can help make Popchilla’s World free for the entire autism community. If this project receives the support of 1000 backers, Popchilla’s World will be free to download for the first week after its launch. If we get the support of 2000 backers, the game will be free to download for an entire month.
Where can I find out more about Popchilla and Interbots?
There's been discussion in the autism community about the long-term benefit of touchscreen devices, and the worry that children may become too attached to technology at the expense of learning to interact with people. Others have expressed uncertainty about whether learning to complete tasks in a virtual world will translate to completing tasks in the real world.
We are aware of these concerns and are very grateful that we have experts in the autism community helping us to tackle these issues. We are working hard to find the best ways to scaffold the activities in the virtual world to activities in the physical world, and plan to use physical tasks and objects (including robots!) that extend the game in the future. We don't view Popchilla's World as a comprehensive solution to learning daily routines and social interactions - rather, we view the game as a single tool in a toolbox that parents and therapists can use to augment their existing therapies and interventions.
Absolutely! If you'd like to donate your copy to a specific person, we can coordinate with you after the campaign to transfer your reward. If you don't personally know of anyone affected by autism, we will work with our contacts in the autism community to gift your copy to a child who would enjoy it.