Companion toy for children with autism

DREW is an interactive teddy bear that helps children with autism identify their emotions and cope with stress.

Photo of DREW Team
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  • Education

Are you employed by T-Mobile or related to an employee of T-Mobile?

  • No

Eligibility: Date of Birth

3 are 15 & 2 are 14

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Palo Alto, CA

Website or social media url(s) (optional):

Instagram: @teamdrewbear

Date You Started Your Project Started

April 12, 2019

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Start-Up (first few activities have happened)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Today, 1.5 million children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with autism. These children are often challenged with not being able to identify or fully express their emotions. They are also more prone to stress buildup because they have a harder time with calming down in stressful situations. These stressful situations can often lead to a meltdown, which can become violent and cause harm to themselves or others. Our goal is to prevent those events.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Our solution is DREW (Defining and Regulating Emotional Welfare), an interactive toy that helps children with autism identity their emotions and cope with stress. DREW has two main features: songs and vibrations. The songs that DREW will play are designed to teach lessons about emotions in a concrete way. Rather than focusing simply on facial expressions, the lyrics will teach children about how an emotion feels physically, which can help them identify what they’re feeling and express it to their caregiver. We have composed one song so far and are planning on continuing to write and compose more original songs as we learn more about the science behind emotions. The vibrations are a key feature as well, because it pulses at the rate of a resting heartbeat, which has been proven to help people calm down. In stressful situations, the child can hug DREW and feel its vibrations, which would help de-stress the child and avoid a meltdown. Both of these features are packaged in a teddy bear form to help children more easily develop a connection with their companion toy, while also keeping it unassuming and discrete.

3. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

One of our teammates has a childhood friend who has autism. We knew immediately after hearing stories about him that we wanted to make a difference in that space. During our research, we found out that 1.5 million children have been diagnosed with autism in the US, and that their families are struggling with the average annual cost of $60,000 for autism-related treatments. When we dug deeper and conducted interviews with caregivers of children with autism, we noticed a pattern: children with autism found it extremely hard to communicate and calm down. We also found that the most stressful time, for both the guardian and the child, was when an autistic meltdown took place. We knew then that we had to create a product that will help in those situations. We have been working tirelessly since then to gain the technical and entrepreneurial skills to make DREW a reality.

4. Selfie Elevator Pitch: Include 1-minute video that answers the following “I am stepping up to make change because...”

We started our journey as five freshman girls who created a team for Project Invent, a program that teaches engineering, design thinking, and entrepreneurship to high school students so they can make a product for social good. We decided to step up for children with autism because we believe we have what it takes to make a difference in their lives. We truly believe in the impact that DREW can have in helping children express their emotions and alleviate stress from their caregivers.

5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

We would meet the child with autism and their parents in a comfortable environment to discuss the expectations and ideal result of using DREW. We would tell the parents that DREW should help their child identify their emotions and cope with stress. Upon meeting and interacting with their child, we might notice their anxiousness from meeting several new people at once and see how overwhelmed they are from constant movement and sweating. From there, we would hand the companion toy to their parents and allow them to place DREW into their child’s arms. In this scenario, the child is undergoing stress so the heartbeat feature would be most beneficial in calming them down and reducing the rapid heart rate. Once the child has regained emotional stability, the song feature could introduce an element of play, while also being informative on how to identify one’s emotions.

6. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

DREW has the familiar shape of a teddybear, a feature most current solutions don’t take into account. Since our users are children who find it difficult to communicate, the product's form is crucial to catch their attention. We did not want our user to feel intimidated by an unknown object with flashing lights (which most other competitors have). The pulsing feature also allows for comfort in proximity to the child, as the bear is soft and huggable. Many products are also robots with hard forms; those do not consider that a child may need a companion, rather than a device.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

We have conducted user feedback surveys within our community and have communicated a lot with caregivers of children with autism. However, since DREW is newly developed, we have not had a lot of opportunities to do user testing with children with autism. That should change soon however, because we have already interviewed and pitched our product to a person responsible for special education in the Santa Clara School district (which consist of 9 schools). She was really excited to hear about DREW and has agreed to let us test a prototype in a classroom setting. Working over 10 hours in a week is just an example of our dedication to DREW. We are committed to the project and passionate about helping our user group, so there is no limit to the amount of hours we have put, are putting, and are willing to put in, for the future.

8. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

Our main goal for the rest of 2019 is to improve on the current features of DREW and have a testable prototype. We want to at least do one round of user testing in before 2019 ends. Our long term goal is for DREW to be a smart bear. We're working towards that by researching how we can add features that can detect the child’s emotions and relay it to their caregiver. Our plan is to use factors, like heart rate and skin conductivity, rather than facial cues, because of the challenge children with autism face with emotional expressions. We anticipate multiple rounds of user testing and product improvements, after which we will begin contacting manufacturers and figuring out our go-to-market strategy.

9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?

  • Web/Mobile Development

10. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Mentors/advisors

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka or T-Mobile, who was it?

Project Invent founder, Connie Liu

Complete this evaluation to see the results from the rest of the community

The community is currently evaluating this idea.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Nora Abu-Dayeh

Love this product and what you guys are doing!

Photo of Vidya Krishnan

This is an awesome initiative !!! Way to go girls!!!

Photo of Sameer Iyengar

This is an amazing project! Having a kid on the autism spectrum I can attest to the fact that the work and effort these kids are putting in is exemplary and has a direct impact on special need kids.
Super proud of their effort. May the force be with you!!
Good luck!!!

Photo of Sofia Albers

This project is amazing! I wish you guys the best of luck!

Photo of harish tekchandani

These are our kids
let us open our heart to them

Photo of Raghu Kodige

Wish you the best on the project!

Photo of harish tekchandani

Agree 100%

Photo of harish tekchandani

We are with you all the way

Photo of ashwini patil

Excellent effort - keep making a difference!

Photo of harish tekchandani

With support from all of us we will see positive improvements
thanks for initiating this

Photo of harish tekchandani

I have seen lot of amazing ideas in autistic kids
give them your 100% attention

Photo of Annelise

This is such an amazing idea and I know you guys worked really hard on it. Good luck!

Photo of Bruce

Great project and idea for a very worthy cause. Good luck!

Photo of Ananth S G

An excellent initiative to address the on going issue...Sure way to change the world around us

Photo of Lily Purple

I love what you guys are doing, these are the things that are going to change the world for the better.

Photo of Jennifer Gao

This is a great idea! I know the kids at SNAP would love something like this

Photo of Isaac Zelkha

Good luck!

Photo of Anika Saraf

Awesome job you guys! It’s so great to see you all give back to the community this way, and I really hope everything goes well!

Photo of Sophia Cho

This is so inspiring. I hope everything goes well!

Photo of Soleil Lemons

this is amazing! keep up the good work!

Photo of Penny

really cool idea!

Photo of Georges Saab

A cool and thoughtful idea that is also fun!

Photo of Sameer Venkatraman

Awesome job Neha! This is so amazing!

Photo of Victor Nexus


Photo of Aparna Ananth

Awesome job .... great to see people tackling real life issues!!!! Keep up the good work and best of luck !!

Photo of Bala Narayanaswamy

Wow - this is amazing DREW team. Great thought and vision. Way to go!

Photo of Manjunath Bangalore

This is an incredible way to give back to the Community. I'm a big believer in ideas that solve real-world problems around us. This holds great promise to have a significant impact to the Society at large, particularly with an increase in the number of children diagnosed to be on the Spectrum. Hats off to the DREW team to take on such a wonderful cause. Go DREW!!

Photo of Pradeep Kanyar

Fantastic idea for a great cause. I hope this project reaches out to more children and provides them with the help they need. Best wishes to the Drew team. You guys are making a difference.

Photo of Morgan Cianfichi

Such an amazing idea. Wish you all the very best!

Photo of Natalie Smith

This is an amazing product! It is truly inspiring to see students taking the initiative to make a difference in people’s lives. I’m sure Team DREW and their creations will have a positive impact on the world!

Photo of Sangeeta Pai

Well done team Drew!! All the very best!!

Photo of Rajasekhar Penumudy

Really awesome idea. Using technology to really help people. Wish you the very best and looking forward to the success of this project !

Photo of Seema Naveen

Keep it going! Great way to give back to the community !

Photo of Kathleen Summers

Beautiful work guys, I can tell you put a lot of passion into your project and it’s turned out amazing! Thank you for making a product that can make a positive difference

Photo of Swathee

We are extremely proud of your efforts, Team Drew. Bravo! Keep up your endeavours. We are rooting for you from across the pond ❤️.
Swathee, Shyam, Amaara and Rehaan

Photo of Rampi

Go Team-DREW!!! Good luck & Best wishes.

Photo of savita chandan

Congratulations Team DREW!

Photo of Vidya Lakshman

Congrats Neha. Its a noble thinking of supporting special children. Kudoos to you and your team.

Photo of geetha murali

Very much appreciate the initiative taken in helping out special children.i am sure it is going to be a great companion for them. Wish the girls Good luck.

Photo of Venkatasubramanian Krishnamurthy

Welcome idea. Best wishes

Photo of Aarthi Sampath

Great idea. Good luck ..

Photo of Venkateswaran Ganesan

Very nice concept. I wish the girls all success. Will be much appreciated in the society

Photo of Brinda Shivaram

Great idea. Good luck.

Photo of Mamta Rao

Great idea!!

Photo of Anantha Ramamurti

Quite a novel idea. Go Team Drew.

Photo of Rashmi

Love the idea and the dedication. Keep going, Team Drew!

Photo of Sarita Venkatraman

Wonderful initiative by the kids!!! Keep up the good work.

Photo of Birender Lunthi

This is an amazing intiative. Best wishes for the journey ahead as it is having positive and inspiring impact in the world. Keep up the good work. God bless

Photo of Ram Krishnan

Very novel concept. Keep up the great work!

Photo of Joe Francis

Great work, girls! Think you are gonna do a world of good to all those kids out there and make such an positive impact. Wish you all the best. God bless!

Photo of Christeena Babu

Great work ! This is going to help alot people !

Photo of Mrudula Cyril

Good effort reguards

Photo of Neetha Koshy

Commendable efforts by the team. Keep it going! Looking forward to a really good outcome of this venture. All the best team!

Photo of Krish Vijayaraghavan

This is a very thoughtful effort.Keep it up

Photo of Mukund

This is a great. Keep this going. It will help many kids.

Photo of Vivek Thoppay

This is a great idea. Keep up the great work.

Photo of Arevig Antablian

This is a great initiative! I’m sure you will achieve great success with it!

Photo of Arijit Mukherji

Brilliant! Love the idea

Photo of Raji Anand

Very thoughtful experiment

Photo of Madhu

Such an amazing and thoughtful initiative to bring hope and comfort to special needs children via DREW. Congratulations on your success so far! Absolutely looking forward to celebrating the wider impact of your efforts

Photo of Chandana

Great job...and a great idea

Photo of Annah Turner

this project is so cool! :) cant wait to see this in action

Photo of Padmini Sankar

What a wonderful and innovative idea, using a teddy-bear to tackle childhood autism. Well done to the entire team!

Photo of April M

I was so excited when my friend showed me this project. First of all I want to thank you for doing this, and for stepping up to make a change. Second, this projects excites me because of the amount of people it could help - both parents of children with autism and children with autism themselves. All the best to you and good luck, I will be watching out for DREW when the finalists are announced - but even if not among the finalists I can’t wait to see what else Team DREW is able to do with the product!

Photo of N Ram

Very good cause. Congratulations team

Photo of Tasneem Minadakis

Very creative idea and execution. It is nice to see science and the arts to come to get her into a product that has can help millions of kids.

Photo of Vidya Nagarajan

What an amazing idea!! Thanks for stepping up!

Photo of Bianca

This is such a great idea, thank you for stepping up! I really hope this is a finalist!! Can’t wait to see what DREW can become!

Photo of Sunishka

This is so amazing!! I’m sure this will make a huge difference

Photo of Tulsi Chaitanya

Great initiative! All the besttt!!

Photo of Rebecca

What a wonderful idea, can’t wait to see DREW come into fruition!

Photo of anne deguzman

This project is incredible! I think that making DREW a reality will be a crucial step toward making life more comfortable for people facing autism. I would also love to see this initiative expand beyond the product of the bear, and become an awareness project! There are many organizations that address what autism is and how to support research, but I think there could be more done to address how to confront and relax people with the condition.

Photo of John McPhie

This is a really important and meaningful project. I hope it's very successful. I believe it will make a difference for children with autism, and everyone who cares about them.