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Penelope the Pain-O-Monster

Open Innovation II Spring 2016 | Projects

  • The Problem: Children with autism and fragile X syndrome have trouble expressing their emotions.

    The Solution: The Emotion Owl provides an outlet for these children to show how they feel with different color lights and brightness depending on certain hand motions they make.

    Detailed Solution: The children can show the owl to family and friends to express themselves instead of talking or lashing out. The Owl also has a heart beat which can help calm the children down.


    Main Story or Theme: Kids with fragile X syndrome can lash out when they are scared or angry because they can’t control their emotions or they are not getting enough attention. This can become more dangerous as they get stronger. Also some children with autism don’t feel comfortable sharing their emotions directly. We wanted to create a way for the children to express themselves calmly and get the satisfaction of being heard and recognized.

    Mechanics: The Emotion Owl has ten LED lights in it that light up five different colors corresponding to hand gestures read by the MYO. A fist means you are angry and turns the light red. If your fingers are spread, you are disgusted turning the light green. Waving your hand in means that you are sad turning the light blue whereas turning your hand out means you are happy turning the light yellow. The last gesture is double tapping meaning you are afraid turning the light purple. There is also a steady heart beat to relax the child made by a vibrating motor.

    Development: We started out by thinking of different ways to help children express their emotions. We had an idea of a dog stuffed animal, race cars that light up, owl stuffed animal, and a game. We decided to build the owl and we incorporated LED lights and vibration. The owl is both used to express emotion and comfort the child.

    Challenges: We faced various challenges throughout our project. We had lots of trouble with the sewing machine, getting the right materials and also needed help with programming. There was various technical difficulties involving the LED lights and also the MYO device was very difficult to sync up with different peoples arms and also to the computer.


    Our first iteration was a small stuffed owl with a blue beak and a big red heart. We had five LED lights that lite up if you pressed a button and the brightness was controlled by a potentiometer. In our second iteration we updated the owl design and added a vibrating motor to simulate a heartbeat. We added a small hole behind the sewn heart for the motor to go. We also added a flap in the back to put the arduino in. For this iteration we used the MYO to control the LED lights instead of the button and potentiometer.

  • The Problem:

    It is challenging for doctors to collect accurate self reported information from children about their level of pain due to lack of communication skills, fear, anxiety, and discomfort. Traditional 1-10 pain scales do not fully address these issues, often leading to uncomfortable children and inaccurate symptom information.

    The Solution:

    Penelope the Pain-O-Monster is a plush toy that uses integrated pressure sensors to allow children to express their source and level of pain through play. An additional “Fun” mode provides distraction from pain and anxiety.

    Detailed Solution:

    The stuffed animal has force sensors in different body parts that light up from blue to red depending on how hard they are pushed to show the child’s pain level. There is also a game mode with an interactive lights game to take the child’s mind off their situation. 

    Further Elaboration:

    Main Story or Theme: Our project is a spin off of our Emotion Owl project which was for kids with autism to express themselves. We thought about making a different stuffed animal to help kids in hospitals, we realized that the pain charts that patients used to express their pain could be made more interactive and easier for a child to use. We read that playing with stuffed animals can take the children’s mind off the pain so we decided to incorporate a game mode.


    We have a switch that turns the stuffed animal off, puts it on the pain-o-meter mode or the game mode. It is connected to an exterior power to be able to power six LED light strips and six force sensors. Everything is connected to an arduino which is basically a small computer we programmed. The lights and force sensors are matched up to different body parts. The child would press where it hurts with as much pressure as it hurts and the light in that body part will turn on. The color goes from blue, not that much pain to red, the most pain. The game mode has a random strip light up and the child has to press the corresponding force sensor in that body part as fast as they can before they restart.


    We started out by having many ideas about what we would put in the different modes, like a heartbeat and rainbow colors. We also thought about sound and smell but those were all very ambitious. We liked the game where different colors light up in a pattern and you have to press the force sensors in the same pattern, each round the pattern got more complicated. This was hard to generate randomly because there was no simple way to repeat the past exact two colors again in the same place and then add another random color. We decided it was still fun to have  limited amount of time to press the force sensor corresponding to the light that lit up, there was no pattern in this game but there is a random aspect because the lights lite up in a random order after you press the right force sensor. In the pain-o-meter mode we knew that we were going to have the color go from blue to red depending on the amount of pain. We decided to make a stuffed animal that looked like an alien with a heart pocket. We had two iterations of our ‘alien’ we ended up choosing one that looked more like a monster.


    We faced a various programming challenges. First we had to find a way to connect the arduino board to an external power source, we used a portable charger and cut an USB cable to connect the wires to. It took us a while to set up the three position switch and have all the power connected to the board so that the LED lights were controlled by the switch and not the portable charger directly. We also had trouble connecting the two modes and getting them to work correctly. Robin helped us a lot with the coding and helped us use arrays to keep track of all the different light strips and corresponding force sensors. We couldn’t quite get the game as sophisticated as we first envisioned but we made a game that is still usable and fun. We also had so many delays in the program that is messed up the two independent timers for the heartbeat. We decided to not use a heart beat.