Navy Wants Smartphone App To Diagnose PTSD, TBI

More than 900 Sailors and Marines assigned to the amphibious assault ship Pre-Commissioning Unit America (LHA 6) march to the ship to take custody of it on April 10, 2014 in Pascagoula, Miss. (U.S. Navy photo/Vladimir Ramos)More than 900 Sailors and Marines assigned to the amphibious assault ship Pre-Commissioning Unit America (LHA 6) march to the ship to take custody of it on April 10, 2014 in Pascagoula, Miss. (U.S. Navy photo/Vladimir Ramos)

Officials with the Office of Naval Research are supporting the development of a smartphone application that may help to screen for autism in children — and, down the road, may identify symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury in war veterans.

The technology in play is an algorithm that maps landmarks on faces and assesses emotional responses based on facial movements, officials said in a news release.

“We analyze the video to track position and movement of the head and face, including the lips, eyes and nose–all of which indicate emotions,” said the algorithm’s developer, Duke University professor Dr. Guillermo Sapiro, in the release. “For example, while watching stimuli like a funny video, does the child smile, look toward the caregiver or ask the caregiver to view the video as well? We study all of that. Lack of emotion and social sharing are possible characteristics of childhood autism.”

While the technology is still being developed, Sapiro says he hopes to make a version of the app tailored to read facial expressions indicating the presence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI) and depression. The release notes that those with PTSD or depression may smile often, but those smiles are short and appear forced.

“We hope to find the right partner and develop a research app studying PTSD,” Sapiro said. “We’ve already received interest from a nearby Veterans Affairs center about using this technology in veterans’ homes to monitor behavior for signs of depression.”

For now, the app, called “Autism and Beyond” is available from the Apple app story. Duke University is seeking families to participate in a six-month medical research study to test the effectiveness of the app and the algorithm.

About the Author

Hope Hodge Seck
Hope Hodge Seck is a reporter at Military.com. She can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.
  • stephen russell

    Apply to the VA for sure & other medical sites IE Kaiser Perm chain alone.
    Must expand app for niche use.

    • blight_

      There are a lot of interested stakeholders that would benefit from this.

      Waiting for the NFL version to diagnose TBI from their players…hah!

      What with hundreds if not thousands of people aspiring to the NFL from college every year; they could fire the “problem” employees before their problems became serious enough to point at the NFL. This is a minus that could be applied to any other person this app could benefit. Might people be terrified that the PTSD/TBI app will be used to disability discharge people who want to stay (against all medical advice, and certainly to their detriment)

  • galloglas

    Why does the Navy or any branch of service need a phone app to diagnose PTSD, TBI or any ailment for that matter?
    Every sailor is not a doctor.

    • blight_

      The point is to allow the app to give a preliminary diagnosis…at a minimum to sort people between the “You’re Fine, Don’t Panic” and the “maybe you should schedule a visit with your physician” groups.