Companion toy for children with autism
DREW is an interactive teddy bear that helps children with autism identify their emotions and cope with stress.
Team DREW photo
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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?
10. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?
How did you hear about this challenge?