CSUN alumni and married couple Kevin Chaja ’05 (Computer Science) and Natasha Chaja ’04 (Psychology) have empowered individuals with communication struggles by harnessing technology.
In 2016, the Chajas co-created an app called Moment AR, first to help Natasha, a school psychologist, better communicate with students. Now the app is globally available for users to download.
The app is an augmented-reality tool that works with an external, physical cube to assess and advance social, emotional and language skills. The app is designed to to help individuals with developmental and learning disabilities and those in need of mental health support and social and language development.
During the testing phase with her students, Natasha understood how special the tool was.
“It was like magic in their hands,” Natasha said. “They were able to really talk about their feelings without even really knowing it because they were projecting onto what they were viewing.”
After opening Moment AR, users are greeted with four options that include emotions, languages, social, and an emotion scale. Depending on what is chosen, cartoon-like characters appear to depict the many forms of these options. For example, if emotions are chosen, the character’s likeness ranges from anger to jealousy, happiness, boredom, and so on.
Moment AR lets students express themselves through the app in a way they feel comfortable. It provides a healthy discourse for students who may struggle with communication, and it gets users to use projection to communicate.
“We did our research and put together this concept in which children can view different emotions and either relate to them or talk about them,” Natasha said.
Kevin came up with this idea in 2016 while he was an executive director at Sony. Natasha is a school psychologist who was expressing her frustrations to him about her struggles with assessing some of her students. Kevin had an idea for the app, coded it and told Natasha to test it at work to see how the children reacted. After putting it to the test, Natasha was exposed to a whole new world, she said. The children immediately grasped the concept of Moment AR and put it to use.
This also brought Kevin into Natasha’s world of psychology.
“I had to do a deep dive and learn everything about psychology and special education,” Kevin said. “Back in the day while we were having dinners, it was more basic talk, such as her having either a good day or a bad day. When she talks about work now, though, I fully understand what she’s talking about. If she has trouble assessing the student, I completely understand her job now and can use this knowledge to enhance the app.”
Moment AR is already being downloaded and used in countries such as Italy and New Zealand, and the app has more than 3,500 downloads. Both Kevin and Natasha are excited for the future of the app and believe this useful tool can make its way to the mainstream, they said.
“The main goal of this is getting people and children to admit how they feel through that specific human emotion,” Kevin said. “If I can prove that I can get an assessment 30% faster and 30% more effective, why wouldn’t this be used?”
Recently, Kevin started teaching computer science at CSUN and has even gotten some students involved with the app. He has introduced them to the world of augmented reality by building other apps for the social space. Natasha said she still uses Moment AR in her sessions every single week and is proud of what they created — and the development it has fostered in her students.