Visual attention impacts virtually every aspect of intelligent behavior, from perception and learning to communication and social interaction; in addition, atypical patterns of visual attention are hallmarks of many neuropsychological conditions such as autism. Only very recently has technology been able to cheaply and easily provide detailed measurements of human visual attention in naturalistic settings, through head-mounted cameras and wearable eye-trackers. This project leverages these technologies to open up new avenues for measuring and modeling human visual attention in a variety of naturalistic, everyday situations.
I was first inspired to study visual thinking in autism when I read Thinking in Pictures, an autobiography by a woman with autism named Temple Grandin, and met several individuals with ASD, including Temple herself, who feel that they are visual thinkers. Temple describes how her predisposition towards visual thinking gives her significant benefits in her work as an animal scientist and designer of humane livestock equipment but has also caused problems for her in other areas, such as in understanding abstract concepts that are hard to visualize. One goal of the VITA project is better understand how individuals who are visual thinkers process information and experience the world around them, with the goal of advancing cognitive and developmental theories of autism as well as developing better day-to-day supports for individuals on the spectrum and their caregivers.
For more information, please visit the VITA project website.
- Robust Robotics Group at MIT: Path planning algorithms, user interface design, techniques for human-machine collaboration.
- Aerospace industry: design, implementation, and flight-testing of integrated architectures for autonomous sensing and guidance in small UAVs.
- Environmental Sciences Division at Oak Ridge National Lab: mathematical modelling of carbon and energy cycle impacts on climate change, image processing for studying plant biomechanics.