The New Pong

No, We’re not talking about old-school Atari. PoNG on campus stands for the Power of Neurogaming Center, an interdisciplinary initiative at the Qualcomm Institute that combines cognitive science, neuroscience, the digital arts and engineering in order to create a learning ecosystem around video games and sensor technology.

PoNG’s first project is aimed at autism intervention. Center director Leanne Chukoskie teamed with autism researcher Jeanne Townsend to create games that improve attention and gaze control and mitigate other behaviors associated with autism. The novel element behind these games? They are gaze-driven, which means that they are played with the eyes—not a mouse or a touchscreen.

“Dr. Mole and Mr. Hide is one of our favorites,” says Chukoskie, an expert in eye-tracking technology. “Little moles pop out of holes and you have to look at them to knock them back down. Some you want to hit, and some you don’t. This promotes fast and accurate eye movement and builds inhibitory control.”

These games are not only played by individuals with autism—they are developed and programmed by them as well. Chukoskie’s team includes adults functioning on the spectrum, who contribute their unique skills and in turn develop professional experience to take to the workforce.

Chukoskie and Townsend have since co-founded BrainLeap Technologies, a start-up housed in the Qualcomm Institute Innovation Space, just a short walk from the PoNG lab. “We want to make the games available to families, and eventually schools, to do the most good for the most people.” says Chukoskie. “Starting a company wasn’t in mind initially, but it became clear that’s what we needed to do.”