PandaRoo: Personalized Stuffed Animal Companion

Designers: Ling Bei, Courtney Olmsted, Yao Quan Xie

Client Coordinator: Diane Felton, Duke Hospital

Supervising Professors: Richard Goldberg Kevin Caves

Children can face considerable psychosocial anxieties during hospital stays, especially when parents or guardians are absent. The PandaRoo comfort toy was designed to help alleviate these anxieties, through audio and visual components that can be customized to suit individual needs. The audio component consists of an MP3 player housed in a miniature backpack, which can be easily attached onto and removed from stuffed animals of various sizes. This allows the child to use his or her favorite stuffed animal, while the hospital can own the costly electronics and use them on multiple patients. This eliminates the need to sterilize stuffed animals before reuse. The MP3 player features four user-selected playback modes. Additionally, playback buttons are situated along the edges of a picture pocket that spans across the backpack straps, thus creating a unified user interface on the front of the stuffed animal. The user presses one of four buttons on the backpack to play one of the MP3 recordings. These could be their parent reading a story, singing a lullaby, or a recording of their favorite song.

By reducing pediatric patients’ anxieties during their hospital stays, PandaRoo will provide comfort and entertainment particularly when children are not with their primary caretaker. Our supervisor at Duke Hospital, Diane Felton, and other therapists expressed excitement about the possibility of using this in the clinic for their own patients. Diane stated “I think this is definitely something we can use that will be a source of comfort for those kids who are here without their parents.”

The PandaRoo (Figure 1) consists of a custom miniature backpack with an embedded MP3 player and user controls. Because the electronics are housed in the backpack, a stuffed animal of the child’s choice can “carry” the backpack, and the device can be moved among multiple patients. In addition, the backpack provides a way for the unit to be sanitized: the electronics are removed, and the backpack itself is then washed.

The audio component of PandaRoo uses a Rogue Robotics uMP3 Playback Module that is controlled by a PIC 16F876 microcontroller. Although the current MP3 module has no direct recording capabilities, Rogue Robotics is currently developing a newer version with recording capabilities that can be used for a future model. In the meantime, any MP3 recording can be easily downloaded to PandaRoo using a personal computer and a flash memory card reader. The electronics are powered by a standard 9V battery, and the voltage is reduced to 5V using a regulator. The regulator has a shutdown pin so that the PIC can shutoff its own power supply to conserve battery power. The audio component is housed in an ABS plastic enclosure.

The visual component of PandaRoo involves a picture pocket, located on the front of the stuffed animal. The picture pocket is attached to the backpack straps on only one edge, allowing the backpack to easily mount to the stuffed animal. Four brightly colored, waterproof buttons are located along the edges of the pocket. Each button selects playback of a different pre-recorded message. Wires from the buttons to the electronics housing run through one of the backpack straps, and contain connectors so the electronics can be easily detached before washing the backpack.

The audio interface provides for four different playback modes, controlled by two independent slider switches located on the electronics enclosure. These switches are designed for access by the patient’s caretakers. The first pair of playback modes selects either Custom or Default. Some children’s anxieties are worsened when they only hear their parents’ or guardians’ voices and do not see their physical presence. For these users, the MP3 player can be set to play default lullabies and stories featuring neutral voices. For children who are comfortable with listening to their parents’ or guardians’ voices, the MP3 player can be switched to playback of custom clips instead. The second set of playback modes selects between Single Play and All Play modes. In Single Play, the MP3 module only plays one clip (custom or default, depending on the first setting) when a playback button is pressed. This helps to engage the child since he or she has to actively and frequently interact with the toy in order to elicit audio responses. However, some patients do better with accessing all clips on the push of a single button, hence, the existence of the All Play mode.

Finally, the device powers down automatically after five minutes of consecutive inactivity, so as to conserve battery power. In this case, it can be turned back on using an on-off switch located on the front of the backpack.

Cost of parts for the PandaRoo was about $300.

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