New innovators: Yoga Matt

New game designed to help children with attention deficit disorders

Yoga Matt is a new game designed to help children with attention deficit disorders improve their cognitive control and attention skills. It will be launched early in 2015 and is the result of a collaboration between three Irish tech companies – the long established Kavaleer animation studio, video applications company, Videobot, and Dublin-based start-up Cortechs, which develops brainwave-sensing technology to improve brain function and resilience.

“We got together because we’re market leaders in animation, video applications and brain-sensing solutions and our vision for delivering fun yet reliable mobile tools to improve the quality of life for children with attention deficit behaviours overlapped,” says Cortechs founder, Áine Behan.

“The needs of these children are currently unmet and we saw the potential to create animated content for those with ADHD and within the autistic spectrum. For many, mainstream content is inaccessible. We believe that having specifically tailored content could bring huge advantages in terms of helping to improve their focus levels. Brain waves can be positively conditioned and Yoga Matt rewards children for engaging positively with the game while simultaneously improving their attention and compulsive behaviours. Yoga Matt uses a wearable headset to track the player’s brain activity in real-time and provides visual feedback to reward the player.”

Behan says the cost of developing Yoga Matt will be about €50,000. “What this figure doesn’t show is the huge amount of time and passion that has also gone into this,” she says. “We are now at the point where we can consider looking for investors to come on board.”

The partners opted for a game-based product based on Behan’s research into the needs of those looking after children with ADHD. “The vast majority – around 95 per cent – thought gaming was the ideal medium provided there was consistent engagement with relevant content underpinned by scientific rigour,” says Behan, a neuroscientist who has been working in the area of mental health and disease for more than 12 years.

“Close to 7 per cent of children worldwide suffer from ADHD and it is growing exponentially,” she adds. “Medication treatments need to be complemented by engaging non- medicated solutions. The problem is that there is a lack of scientifically validated products available to improve focus and relaxation in children. This is where a product such as Yoga Matt fits into the picture. A game like this has global potential. Because of my background we are coming at this from a scientific perspective and this anchors the technology. But with Kavaleer’s experience in generating games and gameplay mechanics and Videobot’s expertise in mobile-centric video platforms, we have packaged our solution in a very user- friendly way.”

In June this year the partners participated in TVX, an international forum for the presentation and discussion of research into online video and TV interaction and user experience. The BBC is a key sponsor of the event and Yoga Matt scooped one of the grand challenge awards for its innovative approach to improving the TV experience for children with neurotypical conditions.

Andrew Kavanagh is one of the founders of Kavaleer Productions. The company has been in business since 2001 and numbers publishers Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Playfirst Games and Sesame Workshop among its clients. "Yoga Matt is based around the activities of a high-functioning autistic child called Dougie Noir and while focus-training is a key aim, I believe that the problem solving and mystery aspect of the concept has the potential to appeal to a much broader audience," he says.

“Our competition is limited as of now,” Behan adds. “Sensor-based headsets are still a fairly niche product but wearables are the next ‘touch’ technology and nothing could be more intuitive than thought-responsive tech.”

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