A simple conversation about the growing needs of an 'inattentive generation' sparked a Melbourne-based joint venture that spans the fields of the medical science, education, and software development.
Enabled by an Australian Research Council linkage grant, the venture consists of a collaboration between Monash University, Grey Innovation and Torus Games. It has since become a case study for innovation in Australia.
The collaboration resulted in the TALI Attention Training Program, gaming software developed specifically to assist the learning of children with conditions that are often accompanied by attention deficits, such as autism and Down syndrome.
"TALI is a scientifically based response to a situation that is getting worse and worse," said Professor Kim Cornish, world leading expert in neuro-developmental disorders. "Out of 40,000 children, 12,000 will have some sort of diagnosed attention deficit disorder, or will simply be described as 'inattentive'."
"The ability to pay attention is essential for learning," said Professor Cornish, "Without this foundational skill, everything that follows is impacted: schooling, employment opportunities, and ultimately a person's quality of life. Unfortunately, very few of the products on the market that claim to help kids with attention deficit needs aren't scientifically based and offer no evidence that they can deliver what they promise."
But TALI does deliver, thanks to world-class research and development.
Innovation game changer
Dr Hannah Kirk says it is unusual that the joint venture was formed at the very beginning of the research process. A former PhD student of Professor Cornish, Dr Kirk is now the Chief Research Officer at Avexa, the company set to launch TALI this October.
"Normally, researchers would undertake their studies and then seek opportunities to commercialise several years later, once they had their findings," she said.
"By working together from the very beginning we sped the process up but also ensured that the end result was a combination of the best that both science and tech had to offer."
TALI: One of a kind
A tablet-based learning program, TALI's games were developed by Torus Games, a DreamWorks contractor that had previously worked with Grey Innovation.
"That existing relationship made it easy to go into the partnership," said Mr Kevin McIntosh, Head of Production at Torus Games.
The culture at Torus Games meant that they were in it for the long-term and understood that thorough and efficient research was the key to successfully commercialising TALI.
That research reported improved focus and attention among children who played the game five days a week for 20 minutes over a five week period. Ongoing studies have suggested that this effect is lasting.
TALI is one of the few programs around the world that is based on scientific studies of this kind.
Model for the future
"There are always critical 'if's' with any joint venture," said Ms Grace Lethlean, Business Development Manager at Grey Innovation. "TALI has been unique from the beginning, but perhaps the model it provides will be more common in the future," said Ms Lethlean.
"Melbourne is a huge hub for smart collaboration; there are so many meetups and industry bodies that are really active", Ms Lethlean said.
For those involved with TALI, it comes as no surprise that this culture of innovation has produced excellent results.