WonderTree, a Pakistani startup, specializing in apps for the mentally impaired, has won third place at the Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) Tech-1 Startup Competition 2016 held at Stanford University. The company’s games relied on augmented reality in which players interact with the environment using movements and gestures.

WonderTree games make use of augmented reality, a spectrum of computer technology that distorts the physical view of reality using computer graphics via sensors and virtual gear, where players physically interact with the game using movements, physical motions and gestures. The games require Microsoft Kinect V2, a TV screen and a computer. WonderTree games focus on grabbing the player’s attention, providing a unique way to interact with the virtual world and thereby promoting better cognitive brain functionality.

While the WonderTree team includes renowned psychologists and special teachers, the company’s games feature a low-cost, user-friendly performance tracking system aimed at monitoring an individual’s performance and tracking their physical and mental development. Furthermore, the games do not need any external medical assistance and can be played at any time.

Children with learning disabilities such as Down syndrome, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), cerebral palsy, dyslexia, autism, and other mental health problems can best utilize the unique gaming experience offered by WonderTree’s platform. Mental health development is a long-term process that requires a vast amount of time, effort and attention to detail, because of which the creators decided to add data collection, reporting and analysis to the WonderTree platform.

This year, the GIST Tech-I Competition received a record 1,075 applications from 104 countries Following a record number of votes, applications, and expert reviews — WonderTree’s idea was one of the 15 idea stage finalists. The competition was part of the 7th installment of The Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES 2016), a platform that invites global entrepreneurship and innovation ideas and features talks and panel discussions featuring the likes of US President Obama, Google’s Sergey Brin and Sundar Pichai, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn, Travis Kalanick of Uber, and many more.

WonderTree currently has several games in its arsenal — Wonder Paint, Bucket Ball and many more soon-to-be-released games.

Wonder Paint was designed for preschoolers and students who lack proper academic training and have impaired writing skills and consists of three parts; air tracing, scribbling and letter recognition. Tracing encourages children to start writing as letters appear on stage, using the motion of their hands to trace the word. The scribbling stage is where the player unleashes his inner artist, allowing freedom of creative thinking through art, enabling fine-tuning motor skills and functioning as an outlet for early literacy. Finally, letter recognition enables players to recognize letters, promoting healthy cognitive skill development, recall and memory function as well as helping with the learning process.

Bucketball involves players to actively participate and focus on the objects falling on the screen as they try to “catch” them using a real bucket. The game has different levels, difficulty settings and customization, designed to develop motor skills and cognitive skills and increase attention span. Upon clearing each level, the games further allow the child to gain a sense of accomplishment.

WonderTree began as an idea in summer 2015 when Muhammad Usman, a student of Bahria University Karachi, after returning home from college, found his mentally-disabled brother enjoying a game on his PlayStation console. The scene left a lasting impression on Usman who wondered why there weren’t any games specifically aimed at children with special needs. As a result, Usman took the initiative and teamed up with two of his closest friends, Muhammad Waqas and Ahmed Hassan to design games for children with mental disabilities.

After exhaustive brainstorming and prototyping sessions, the team joined the Nest I/O incubator in Karachi, founded in partnership with Google and Samsung and supported by funding from the US State Department.

Nest I/O gave the team an opportunity to hone their craft and through the mentorship of their fellow peers and tech entrepreneurs, their prototype became increasingly sophisticated, refined and consumer-friendly. Eventually, their prototype became ready for development after spending a mere few months in the incubator.

WonderTree is a groundbreaking initiative, with the team’s progress indicating the massive potential of its idea. Currently, many tech developers are focusing on medical applications and gadgets. WonderTree is a progressive advancement in the current trend, dealing with a very sensitive issue and bringing much-needed attention to an otherwise overlooked topic.

Moreover many studies in recent years have showed that video games are effective at making students more attentive and alert, engaging in social activities and in reducing symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and other mental health issues.

WonderTree has a bright future ahead, and should focus on developing games for the elderly suffering from dementia and impaired motor skills.