EmCo.

An emotional communication device designed for children with autism.

About EmCo

EmCo (Short for Emotion Communication) is a physical product developed to assist children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and their carers in communicating their emotions to each other. Comprised of an Arduino, pressure sensor and LED lights, the device responds to varying degrees of touch and uses this input, through colour, to abstractly identify the emotion being felt. Accompanied by a poster, this device aims to promote positive social behaviour by allowing the child to more easily understand the feelings of others, and conversely, more effectively communicate their own feelings to the people around them.

Project Goals

Encouraging collaboration and social interaction.

Increase and support emotional recognition.

Encourage positive emotional regulation.

Cater for sensory sensitivities.

Our Process

Background Research

To begin, we knew we needed to know more about autism and its characteristics and therefore started to conduct background research. We then conducted a survey for parents of children with ASD and used this data combined with our background research to formulate personas for our user group. Furthermore, we looked at existing solutions in the market and analysed each of their strengths and weaknesses.

From this inital research we were able to conclude four main problem areas:

Social Interaction

Emotional Recognition

Emotional Regulation

Sensory Sensitivities

Initial Concepts

Based on our background research and market analysis, we started to brainstorm possible solutions. From this conceptualisation stage, we came up a number of initial ideas which were then sketched out and turned in to use cases and story boards. Initial ideas included;

Further Iterations

After establishing the basis for our concept we looked at furhter improving Emco and enlisted the help of psychologists and a teachers aid with a background in helping children with austism. With their feedback we were able to simplify and improve our concept, leading to a more suitable and thoughtful product. With the main purpose of our device being to simplify and aid in the emotional communication process for children with communication difficulties we made the following iterations;

Hitting is the new interaction

After research and feedback we found that hitting or squeezing was the most effective and naturaly heuristic way for children to express their emotions.

Music Communication device

Initially wanting to create a musical instrument, we found in our research and interviews that a communication tool would be more effective in promoting positive social behaviour and development.

Components

After realising that the device should be a tool for communication and using htting as the core interaction, we looked at how we could further improve Emco.

3D Printed Body
Foam surface
Arduino Trinket
Pressure Sensor
Micro USB charging
RGB LED Strip
Lithium Ion
Rechargable Battery
Power switch

Poster

Utilising the effectiveness of social stories and the opportunity for further clarity and effectiveness, we came up with the Emco. poster. The poster is a learning tool that allows the child to recognise and replicate the facial expressions of the emotions felt. Furthermore, we left space on the poster for the child to add their own images, a strategy for increasing the effectiveness of emotional and facial expression recognition.

Rationale & Next Steps

After realising that the device should be a tool for communication and using htting as the core interaction, we looked at how we could further improve Emco.

Form & Difusser

The original form of our device used both lights and accompanying sound to reflect the emotion being felt, i.e. if the child was angry then the device would give off a red light and lowly toned sound. However, after talking to Psychologist Dr Andrew Campbell and evaluating our design decisions, we found that having sound could jeopardise the effectiveness of our product and possibly impact the child's sensory sensitivities.

Handle

The handle was a simple but effective solution to the problem of holding the device. From ergonomic testing with children, we found that the bowl shape itself was not designed efficient enough to both hold and punch or squeeze the device. The handle acts as both a support system and a means to hang it on the wall with the accompanying hook. We designed the handle based on a universal size of our target market, children aged 3 - 15. However, if this device were to be sued in a classroom of 3 or 4 year olds we would probably use a smaller handle.

Foam

Emco. is fully customisable when it comes to the type of material the device uses. However, we found the most effective material to be a medium density foam, similar to that of a stress ball. We evaluated and tested a number of different materials and concluded that the medium density foam that we went with gave the best feedback and sense of touch. The foam is also soft to the touch but not possible for a child to pull apart, a key concern based from our research. Furthermore, one of the psychologist even noted how the foam could reduce stress in itself.

Next Steps

Lesson plan

To avoid initial confusion, a lesson plan should be developed. This will allow the teacher to effectively implement the device.

Adaptability

We want to be able to read the intensity of the child’s touch. This would ultimately lead to a more accurate reading of the child’s emotion and avoid possible confusion.

Customisation

We want to make the device as customisable for the child as possible. We hope to make it suitable for as many children as we can.

Material

We hope to replace the wooden body with a lighter and stronger material that would avoid injury or damage of it were thrown by the child.

Physical Prototyping

Iteration One

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Iteration Two (Latest interation)

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Poject Team

We are a team of 3 students from the University of Sydney. We come from a background of user experience and interaction design with a core focus on creating solutions that address peoples needs.

David

Jonti

Robert



If you have any questions about the project, please do not hesitate to contact us through email or our facebook page.