Can a teddy bear help kids with chronic illness take better care of themselves? A pair of recent Northwestern University graduates are trying to find out. Their creation Jerry the Bear combines robotics and artificial intelligence into an interactive teaching toy for children with Type 1 diabetes.
Jerry has insulin injection patch sites, a pulsing heart, and a chest gadget that displays his blood glucose level. Jerry’s diabetic owner will be able to monitor and maintain his health by feeding him food items like milk, fish, or chicken—and give Jerry an insulin shot when he needs one. Jerry not only provides a loveable method to teach kids how to manage a serious condition, but helps shape an empathetic bond.
By encouraging kids to practice medical procedures they'll need for the rest of their lives, “Jerry the Bear empowers children with a chronic illness to take control of their own disease," creators Aaron Horowitz and Hannah Chung write about their invention. "We aim to accelerate independence, increase compliance, and ultimately facilitate healthy and happy lives for those affected by diabetes.”
The project grew out of a nationwide college nonprofit organization called Design for America, which Chung helped found in 2009 and now comprises more than 600 student members. Jerry the Bear, the group's first social innovation project, grew out of personal experiences: Chung’s family has a history with Type 2 diabetes, while Horowitz was diagnosed with a hormone deficiency as a child.
Once the pair expanded the project beyond the confines of their college campus, Horowitz received a Dell Social Innovation fellowship to help with startup costs. Later, Chung and Horowitz took a sabbatical from Evanston to take advantage of a business accelerator program called Betaspring. Now they're tinkering with Jerry’s third prototype, researching internal and external design. Horowitz focuses on the mechanics and robotics, while Chung obsesses over Jerry’s soft exterior based on feedback from product testers—children with diabetes.
The entrepreneurs project that Jerry will hit the market some time in 2013, but there's no firm deadline. Eventually, they hope the bear will be the first in a line of toys for children with medical conditions ranging from asthma to obesity.
“The biggest thing for us [is that] we’re motivated on the goal in getting Jerry in the hands of children with Type 1 diabetes. Everything we do drives that because that’s what’s important,” Horowitz says. “Our social mission is tied to the products we create and we’re immensely optimistic. That’s the beautiful thing about being our age.”
Photo courtesy of Andreas Nicholas