One of the many inspiring features of SXSW are the experiential installations,

human-centered design projects and immersive AR and VR showcased throughout spaces within the festival. While, I am going to do a deeper dive into AR and VR in my next edition,

there was a stand-out installation that explored the convergence of sound, sight and touch.


Social Sensory Architectures was designed to engage children with autism on their terms.

I spoke with Sean Ahlquist, Assistant Professor of Architecture at University of Michigan who led the research exploring new materials technologies as tactile interfaces and environment to address the linkages between motor control, sensory processing and challenges in engagement for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Sean’s 5-year-old daughter has autism and her specific challenges related to motor control, communication and social interaction, were the initial motivation for this research.

Sean has combined fabric creation and textile manufacturing with a bespoke software

platform, Microsoft's Kinect motion sensor and Unity’s graphic and game engine, to transform the-se fabric surfaces into touch and pressure-sensitive spatial environments that are responsive to your touch, visual movement and sound. The intent is to form engaging and comforting sensory experiences to build motor skills and positively reinforce social interactions. This is also concurrently being explored with a pilot study in psychiatry and spectrum therapy. The ultimate goal is to be able to develop unique environments tailored to each child’s individual needs.