Interactive Light & Sound Companion
TOG, Together to Go Fondazione, asked us to create a music therapy tool which will help further develop their patients cognitive and physical abilities. TOG works with children ages
5-15 who are facing complex neurological disorders. TOG uses several kinds of therapies to treat clients, and we were asked to focus on the Music Therapy room to create a tool which uses updated technologies to help treat their patients.
The team consisted of Alice Ridolfi, Megha Damani, and I all interaction designers. My primary role on the team was research, presentation design, creative coding, wireframing, and prototyping. My biggest learning on this project was designing for accessibility and how you can make really cool stuff while not excluding any type of potential user.
To design for children with neurological disorders, we had to consider some accessibility issues:
Limited color recognition the children can only see high contrast colors
They become easily overly stimulated when there are too many feedbacks (ex. lights & sound at once)
Most extreme case patient has limited mobility to slight movement of one finger
Children could have uncontrollable body movements
We decided to create a persona around the most extreme case, to follow a design for all approach. We focused on Andrea a 5-year-old with a neurological disorder, he has no communication abilities and no movement except for his index finger on one hand. We choose to focus solely on this persona knowing if we could create an elegant and useful design for this particular and severe case we would likely provide a solution worthy of all cases.
Through our work with TOG therapists which consisted of interviews and observational research completed by watching recorded music therapy sessions, we also identified some key goals for our solution.
Through our research and awareness of what tools are currently available at TOG and what is currently available on the market, we created some objectives to keep in mind as a team. We set to develop a product that:
• features different levels of difficulty to assist the children throughout several levels of
• is a low-cost solution, while being versatile, meaning it works indoors, outdoors, as well
as at therapy, or in the child’s home
• works to soothe child when they are experiencing bad behaviors. Children with
neurological disorders can sometimes experience intense behaviors where they will
intensely act out and could be injured unless calmed.
• even when used in a medical setting still is very child-friendly. A lot of the current
products on the market are too medical in look and do not help to engage and motivate
• lends importance to child’s gestures. The child should be interacting with a motion to
engage his tactile and kinesthetic systems to allow the therapy to maximize
Meet Polipo, translated from Italian it means Octopus derived from the similar shape. We struck inspiration from a current tool used at TOG, the sound beam. It works with motion, the further you are from the device the lower the tone, the closer the higher the tone. It is a
preferred therapeutic tool because it teaches the child about spatial awareness and also helps get them moving to initiate the feedback which engages important systems that help develop the child cognitively and physically. Through our research, we saw that even though this is a preferred tool it misfunctions during therapy sessions as well as isn’t appealing for the child to look at.
Polipo functions similar to the sound beam with an added feedback of light therapy. When you move your hand close to Polipo, in light mode the light will dim or brighten, in sound mode, the tone will change pitch from high to low. When you press the ear in light mode, Polipo will change color. In sound mode, he will play a song. Polipo features legs which are removable, when they are attached they can be placed around the arm of a chair, specifically designed with wheelchairs in mind.
We worked together to build the prototype with the help of our mentors at Dot Dot Dot and the supplies and space provided from their fab lab Open Dot. Alice Ridolfi and I worked to code the infrared sensor and its dimming effect while Megha Damani created the sound mode code and combined the code to create the full experience. We 3D printed the body, laser cut the base, created the face out of vinyl stickers, and purchased a flexible camera tripod for the attachable legs.
For the future of Polipo we envisioned a Bluetooth product with its own application and a battery pack. Polipo will be able to play recordings from the parents, whether to be used in therapy or just to wish your child goodnight when the parent is not home to tuck them in. The therapist or parent can now change or adjust the songs and tones by creating custom playlists and uploading their own tunes, as well as light intensity and color from the app. Lastly, the application allows for night mode or calming mode it can work to lull the child to sleep or use the lights to help calm and ease the child through an extreme or aggressive behavior.