Dynamilis: the app that uses AI to help children learn to write

© 2021 Dynamilis

© 2021 Dynamilis

EPFL start-up School Rebound has developed a unique application to help children improve their handwriting in a fun and personalized way. Already available in Switzerland and France, it will soon be launched in Italy.

Handwriting issues affect up to 25% of children aged 5 to 12. Difficulties that, when left unaddressed, can have significant repercussions throughout the child's schooling and adult life. To provide a concrete solution to this problem, the EFPL start-up School Rebound has developed an application that aims to help children improve their handwriting in a playful way. Its name? Dynamilis. Launched on the Swiss App Store last October, it has already been downloaded more than 6200 times. The app is available in France since October 2021, and will be launched in Italy shortly.

Started in EPFL's CHILI Laboratory (Computer-Human Interaction in Learning and Instruction), and supported by Professor Pierre Dillenbourg, School Rebound has brought together AI and tablets to better diagnose potential handwriting problems and support children as they learn to write. Its technology can support a range of challenges, from mastering the basics of writing, to more complex issues such as dysgraphia, a disorder that affects handwriting and its layout (handwriting is either too slow, illegible or tiring, requiring in all cases a major cognitive effort).

A fast and accurate analysis

The start-up was launched in January 2021, following the PhD thesis of Thibault Asselborn: "As part of my PhD work, I co-developed an algorithm to analyze a child's handwriting in 20 seconds, with criteria that a human eye cannot see," the CEO of School Rebound explains. "Indeed, our analysis breaks down handwriting into four fundamental aspects constituting a handwriting profile for each individual (static, speed, pressure and slant). Using the latest advances in Artificial Intelligence, the analysis generates a child's precise handwriting profile in just a few steps," says Asselborn.

"We thought that in order to help children, we had to go beyond diagnosis alone and propose remediation or support activities for learning to write," stresses Pierre Dillenbourg, Asselborn’s thesis director. "With children who have difficulties at school due to their writing issues, games are an effective solution to help them overcome their blockages. " Based on the writing diagnostic, the app then recommends personalized activities that help children practice the fundamental aspects of writing while having fun.

Close collaboration with therapists

"We have worked with over 50 therapists to develop this application and received encouraging feedback” continues Dillenbourg. "The speed and accuracy of Dynamilis' diagnostics gives therapists more time to devote to the children during their sessions.” Additionally, the App provides a way for children to continue practicing in between sessions and allows to focus on various aspects, including pressure, which are hard to train with paper. “Using the app helps demotivated kids to have fun with handwriting. Something they lost and that is very important.”

The School Rebound team has also collaborated hand in hand with numerous schools to test the application with students. "We have worked with schools in the cantons of Geneva, Vaud and Neuchâtel, as well as with “la Haute Ecole Pédagogique de Berne, “la Haute école spécialisée de la Suisse italienne” and the International School of Geneva."

In total over 10,0000 children have tested Dynamilis.

A subscription model

The researchers of the CHILI laboratory have benefited from various financial aids – from the joint EPFL and ECAL project "Enabled by Design" (support for a market study and the development of a prototype), from the Mercator Foundation Switzerland and from the Wyss Foundation – to develop Dynamilis. A license was also established by the Technology Transfer Office of EPFL to transfer the intellectual property rights to School Rebound.

Free during its testing phase, Dynamilis will switch to a subscription model starting from January 2022. "After a free trial week, a monthly or annual subscription will be offered to parents, education therapists and schools,” says Asselborn.

A scientific and ethical council

School Rebound has a scientific and ethical board composed of several experts in dysgraphia and dyslexia, data science as well as education. "This scientific framework and rigor are important and allow us to differentiate ourselves from other applications that exist," says Dillenbourg. In terms of competition, Dynamilis is indeed not alone on the market. "But it is the only application that combines both diagnostic and remediation activities."