Ivan Riobo - Georgia Tech Ubicomp Group (USA)

Ivan Riobo, MBA, MS is an Affiliated Research Scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology within the Ubicomp Group at the College of Computing, whose research revolves around understanding how ubiquitous technology can help individuals with autism, their families and community around them in order to develop technologies that improve their quality of life. Ivan, has published in IMFAR, UbiComp as well as other leading conferences in topics at the crossroads of autism and technology. He is also a parent of a child in the Autism Spectrum (ASD) and has been certified as a DIR Floortime therapist, among other certifications. He currently divides his time between research at Gerogia Institute of Technology and teaching Science and Robotics to autistic individuals at The Hirsch Academy, an inclusive school in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.


Veronica Pensosi has interviewed Ivan Riobo for ITASD 2017!:

Q: Hello Ivan, you have a technological background as an Affiliated Research Scientist at the Georgia Institute, could you tell us how did you ended working on technology based treatment for autism?

I have been always fascinated by technology and it’s potential to capture relevant moments during our life. Since I can remember I own and been fascinated with cameras, audio recorders and computers, taking them apart, repairing and putting them back together again. When my first son, Tomás, was born back in 2005 as any new parent fascinated with his child I played countless hours with him enjoying, observing and capturing his development! Overtime, my wife and I started to notice differences in his development compared to his peers at daycare, he was and is so affectionate with us that in the beginning these differences where very hard to point out. Eventually in early 2008 after pediatricians and other doctors failing to identify what we felt was off, he was finally diagnosed with Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder. I remember trying to  describe and even show doctors and people around us what we sensed was “off”, but as it usually happens with autistic individuals they won’t do what they normally do if they are taken away from their natural environment. This is when I started wearing GoPro cameras I used to record myself skiing to capture his behaviors and sharing them with the rest of my son’s intervention team. Became so passionate about autism that I became a therapist myself educating myself in autism relational approaches such as DIR Floortime developed by Dr. Stanley Greenspan, which made perfect sense for my son individual profile. At the same time, wearable technology advances with in both wearable high definition cameras and physiological sensors was exponential giving me the final push I needed to dive into the autism field. In 2011 I was introduced to Distinguished Professor Gregory Abowd from Georgia Institute of Technology and 10 months after, I resigned my position in the Financial Control Department for Turner Broadcasting Systems International, INC, and joined his department to develop ubiquitous systems that allow parents, families, researches, clinicians and even individuals with autism to capture in a synchronized multimodal manner behaviors of interest. What this means is to create systems that allows the users to see behaviors where they happen showing not only what is visible, video, but the invisible components of behavior such as heart rate or electrodermal activity.

Q: We would like to understand better how ubiquitous technology can help individuals with autism, their families and community, could you explain?

For starters despite all the research going on we still do not know much about autism, simply put we cannot identify it’s phenotype! The main challenge it presents is that it’s so complex and variable from individual to individual in the way it manifests that we cannot prescribe a single “treatment”, in the end every individual with autism has unique characteristics that require a unique type of intervention to achieve an effective outcome. An added challenging characteristic when studying autism is the massive reactivity these individuals display when they are out of their natural environment, therefore how can we really understand this condition without having lots of data in it’s natural environment. This is where I connected Ubiquitous Computing with the Autism field, since I read Mark Weiser’s article and definition of UbiComp in his Scientific American 1991 article "The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it”, to me this definition among the many implications it has, it meant developing tech that allows us to enhance our daily lives in a way that generates none or little reactivity so that it doesn’t affect the way we naturally behave. My vision is that this kind of technology can have a huge impact in helping individuals with autism, their families and community by helping them:

- Understand better and faster each unique individual at a deeper level to better indicate an adequate approach.

- Connect & integrate the community around this individual and his family, so that everyone is on the same page.

- Collect huge amounts of valuable data in the wild about autism to understand better the rots of it.

Q: What are the most important topics at the crossroads of autism and technology in your opinion?

Well, like I implied before I think that connecting and integrating the community around autism, while making the lives of the families with autistic individuals less burdened it’s one huge area. While another is allowing the researchers to gather valuable data regarding autism where it happens, this has enormous potential regarding treatment effectiveness as well as providing a deeper understanding of this condition.

Q: It is your first ITASD. What do you expect from the ITASD Conference?

Yes it is, and I’m very excited to meet everyone! I expect to connect and find ways to collaborate!