FRIDAY, DECEMBER 20, 2019
A student venture developing virtual reality technology to help people with autism has received funding to bring the
concept to life over summer.
Socius hopes to create specialist simulations for VR headsets to help people with autism better navigate social and
This month they were thrilled to secure a $5000 grant from Edified (an Australasian education consultancy), awarded to
only four promising projects in Australia and New Zealand with the potential to improve education in specific
This means Socius can purchase the vital equipment needed to test their simulations, such as 360 degree cameras and VR
Founding member Anzel Singh says some people with autism often struggle with social interaction within everyday life
situations such as job interviews.
“It occurred to us that there were few support systems available and that technology has a lot of potential to make the
social skill learning process easier,” he says.
“Simulations within VR headsets offer an excellent environment for people with autism to practice social skills, such as
having a conversation with a stranger, in a non-judgemental space.”
The venture was formed by University of Auckland students Anzel, Sarah Mwashomah and Weilian Du at last year’s Summer
Lab. Summer Lab is a six week ideas accelerator run by the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship
during the University summer holidays.
Since then Socius has been developing the concept and bringing new talent on to the team. They also became finalists in
a sustainable innovation competition and were flown all-expenses paid to Barcelona to pitch their idea at influential
tech start-up event, 4YFN.
The start-up now has eight people working voluntarily on the technology part-time with students from bioengineering,
health psychology, and biological sciences joining the team, as well as a history student with autism spectrum disorder
and a virtual reality tutor.
The original founders completed their degrees this year but will continue to see the venture through.
“By bringing together all of these new skill sets and perspectives to the team we hope to create a product that truly
meets the needs of people with autism,” Anzel says.
Socius will be testing a new platform for producing mixed reality over summer. They hope exploration of this platform
will allow them to make simulations more easily and ensure that meaningful modules are simple to understand and interact
They are also looking for software developers, more virtual and augmented reality enthusiasts and passionate people to
join the team.
“We're still researching how we want our simulations to be and which platform is best for utilisation and accessibility.
We also aim to talk to as many people as we can with autism spectrum disorder. We want to be sure the VR system we
produce is safe, inclusive and an effortless and positive experience for the user,” Anzel says.
“We're all excited to be working on this technology and to be making something we truly believe can help other people.”