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VIDEO: Design for America Creates Bear as Teaching Tool for Diabetic Children

He blinks. He talks. And he has diabetes.

He’s Jerry the Bear, a stuffed mechatronic bear created by student group Design for America as a way to teach good insulin practices to children recently diagnosed with diabetes.

Students have been working with professors at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science to bring Jerry to life using sensors, actuators, and a little bit of fur. He has injection ports where children can simulate insulin injections, and his mouth has a sensor that can sense when he’s being fed “glucose tablets.” He has blinking eyes – that get droopy when his blood sugar is low – and has speech capabilities to let his owner know when he isn’t feeling good and needs a shot of insulin. His glucose level reads out real-time on a screen on his wrist.

“It enables the child taking care of jerry to fully understand the state he’s in,” said junior Aaron Horowitz.

The project began two years ago, when the group won the “most creative” award in the 2009 Diabetes Mine Design Challenge, which asked teams to create new tools for improving life with diabetes. Said the competition web site: “The judges felt that this interactive toy, and the accompanying web play space — something like Webkinz for diabetic kids — could be an excellent teaching tool for newly diagnosed children. It’s the kind of thing we could see being employed in hospitals around the country.”

That is the goal of Design for America, which aims to use human-centered design to create social change. The group takes on design projects like Jerry the Bear but also holds studio programs, where undergraduate and graduate students design solutions for problems like improving hand hygiene, increasing bike safety, and engaging at-risk youth.

Now, coming off winning a prize at the 2010 Northwestern Entrepreneurial Idol entrepreneurship contest, the students are looking at where Jerry the Bear fits into the market and considering how to test it with children.

“McCormick is a place where, if there is a passion of mine, and I say, ‘I really want to build this, teach me the skills to do that,’ there are resources,” said team member Mert Iseri. “And that’s what really sets McCormick apart.”