An innovative idea (Jerry the Bear) helps kids to manage diabetes.
Name: Jerry the Bear
Big Idea: Jerry the Bear is a robotic teddy bear that “has” diabetes. Children are able to take care of Jerry by checking his blood glucose levels, giving him “insulin shots” and “feeding” him a variety of foods.
Why It’s Working: Targeted specifically to children living with type 1 diabetes, Jerry helps sick kids not only learn about the procedures that are performed on them daily but also empowers them to understand the importance of symptom-checking and self-care.
People with type 1 diabetes, a lifelong genetic condition that prevents the accurate breakdown of glucose in the blood, rely on a steady amount of insulin to be delivered to their bodies every day. Since young children cannot manage an insulin pump, test their own glucose or deliver their own injections, parents with diabetic children must administer at least 3 finger-sticking blood glucose checks and frequent insulin injections every day to ensure diabetes is managed. For a five-year-old child, that’s a lot of boo-boos in the name of love.
Enter Jerry the Bear, a fully interactive robotic teddy bear with type 1 diabetes and the brainchild of Northwestern students and Design for America fellows Aaron Horowitz and Hannah Chung. Horowitz, now CEO for the duo’s company Sproutel, explains that Jerry the Bear was inspired by the teddy bears children often get after their diabetes diagnosis.
“They respond really well to these inanimate objects that they ascribe all sort of feelings to,” Horowitz explains. “We just saw there was a great potential to use this thing they’re so attached to and try to make it convey information that could actually help them learn.”
The initial mechanics of Jerry, who is specifically targeted to diabetes-stricken children from ages three to seven, are designed to enable a child to become the bear’s caretaker. Children can check Jerry’s paw for a blood glucose level and administer an “insulin shot” to any one of the bear’s five ports. Jerry also comes with a “food pack” of simple foods, like an apple or cheese, which a child can “feed” to the bear when he has low blood sugar. Horowitz explains that the children are able to react to Jerry’s cues and determine whether the bear’s blood sugar is too high or too low.
“If you feed Jerry, say, a juice box, that will have the same effects on him as it would on a child,” Horowitz says. “There’s sort of a simulation of digestion in his processors, so when you feed him foods, his blood glucose level goes up, when you give him insulin his blood glucose level goes down.”
Horowitz says that Jerry has come a long way from his first prototype: A teddy bear augmented with basic robotics and the eyes of a Furby. The new, improved Jerry will come with a scalable software that will become more complex as the child grows. Horowitz explains that Jerry “matures” to give older kids a better grasp on the subtleties and warning signs of their own disease and help them understand milestone medical changes.
“One of the key transitions is that when the child gets an insulin pump, the tree on Jerry’s screen behaves like a pump,” Horowitz says. “The navigation is very similar.”
Sproutel is currently participating in the BetaSpring accelerator program and will be debuting the new Jerry at the end of April, during the program’s launch week. From there, Horowitz says that a beta-testing round is next — 100 families who signed up for Jerry the Bear will receive one and provide feedback to Sproutel. Horowitz explains that after the beta, he plans to have a mass-production of Jerry in the works for November 14, 2013 — World Diabetes Day. In the long run, Horowitz says the company’s goals are to develop toys that help kids manage other chronic illnesses, including asthma and obesity.
“We make these toys for kids with chronic illnesses, and diabetes is really the proving ground for education as play and to really demonstrate how powerful it can be to have these playful companions that kids can feel attached to, share their emotions with, and learn from,” Horowitz says.