NEC Australia has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Telethon Kids Institute, an Australian children’s health research institute, to apply its artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to detecting autism at a young age.

AI algorithms for eye tracking and facial recognition will be used to advance the institute’s research into autism through the development of new diagnostic tools.

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The institute’s Autism Research Team investigates the genetic and neurobiological causes of Autism spectrum disorders. Autism spectrum conditions affect approximately 125,000 people in Australia, meaning around half a million families are directly impacted by these conditions.

Based in Perth, Telethon Kids Institute will now explore whether NEC’s artificial intelligence algorithms for eye tracking and facial recognition can be used to develop new diagnostic tools for detecting autism in young children. The aim of the partnership is to excel the institute’s research into autism and diagnosis through access to NEC’s engineers, technology and services.

NEC Australia and the Telethon Kids Institute have agreed to jointly own any intellectual property created under the agreement.

Early detection can allow health professionals and parents to implement changes and strategies to better manage the condition. The work also aspires to identify methods to reduce the severity of the condition in the child before they become older.

“The Telethon Kids Institute has conducted ground-breaking research into using facial features for diagnosing autism. We’re at the beginning of our work together but we’re very keen to explore how we can assist and collaborate where possible. For us it has the potential to test and demonstrate completely new applications of our technology in a way that can help improve people’s lives,” said Mike Barber, Chief Operating Officer at NEC Australia.

Remote communities and rural areas are also a major focus of the Telethon Kids Institute, which aims to find ways to support areas that don’t have immediate and onsite care. The MoU offers room to explore how NEC’s communications and AI technologies can be used to improve rural health, especially in remote and Aboriginal communities.

The Telethon Kids Institute will also explore its application in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders  and how they can be identified at an early stage to better support the children and parents or carers to manage the complex situation and enhance their health status as they grow up.

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