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Shelldon: a Toy to Assess Child Development

Shelldon provides an easily accessible, child-friendly tool for parents to quantitatively assess the child's development.

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Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

- Changed games to allow for more fun & more accurate child development analysis - Improving child ergonomics - Redesign how data is shown to adults (parents vs. researchers)

Name or Organization

Project Shelldon, University of Southern California (USC) Biomedical Engineering Department


We are based in Los Angeles, California, and plan to target the U.S. early child development market.

What is your stage of development?

  • New Innovator, with less than one year of experience in ECD


  • University

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Research & Early Testing: I am exploring my idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.

Describe your submission in one clear sentence

Project Shelldon uses data analytics to allow caregivers to evaluate a child’s executive functioning development in order to contribute to the early detection of mental afflictions.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

Our project allows parents and other caretakers to see how well their child has developed through the toys they play. Currently, adults must make subjective observations of how well their children are doing. If they suspect anything, they must then make a trip to the doctor’s office and have the children undergo several tests. This process can be unreliable or incredibly long. Shelldon analyzes the child through how they play with Shelldon, providing parents a tool to better judge their child’s development at home.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Product: A new or enhanced physical product that creates value for end beneficiaries.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

Shelldon provides an easily accessible, child-friendly tool for parents to quantitatively assess the child's development at home. Parents will be able to determine how their children are doing without having to visit a physician for an evaluation or relying simply on subjective observations.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

There are a variety of symptoms that caregivers are told to observe in their children, from lack of eye contact to difficulty focusing to selective emotional expression--these symptoms could indicate an executive functioning issue, and possibly even a mental illness. Currently, there is no objective way to identify and analyze these symptoms. With something as important and life-changing as early detection of mental illnesses, we identified a need for an objective, “intelligent” solution.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

Shelldon is an interactive toy that analyzes child’s developmental progress based on child’s performance on tasks that test the following skills: fine motor skills, memory, letter/number/color recognition, and social competence. For each of these areas, we have designed, and are currently tweaking, proprietary tests (to be copyrighted) to provide insight into a child’s developmental progress in the specific areas. To the child, these “tasks” are fun, interactive games that can be played with the buttons on Shelldon’s back--some of which are as simple as identifying a color, but others may be more complicated, such as identifying Shelldon’s emotion. While the child plays these games, Shelldon’s internal software tracks the child’s progress--what he or she has gotten right and wrong along with general insights of the child’s performance. This data is then compiled and analyzed. It is compared with a global average of children in a similar stage of development to calculate scores for different areas of executive functioning development. These concrete findings are then pushed through Bluetooth to an application on a caregiver’s phone. A caregiver can easily identify strengths or areas where improvement is needed.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

2 to 4 years old is an incredibly important period for a child’s development, so we aim to have Shelldon test the executive functioning for this age group. We expect our initial customers to be parents and child-care institutions. For parents, our product provides them data about their child’s executive functioning abilities and information about potential risks or strengths in their child’s development. For child care institutions, our product provides the added benefit of a competitive advantage. Use of technology, especially concerning health, is an important factor for parents when choosing caretaking institutions. Caregivers will benefit by obtaining insight into a child’s different facets of executive functioning: specifically fine motor skills, memory, letter/number/color recognition, and social competence. They will gain a previously unknown perspective of a child’s mental performance and development as compared to other children at a similar developmental stage. This can assist caregivers in identifying any areas that may need additional resources or evaluations. For example, through the color recognition tasks, a consistent confusion between red and green-based colors may signify that a physician-led test for color-blindness should be performed. In a different vein, a child’s high letter recognition score as compared to other children in the same developmental group could alert the caregiver that the child may be ready for more advanced alphabet training.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

As new stage inventors, we are developing our product to result in large-scale impact in the way mental health is currently approached and analyzed. Parents have a multitude of tools to detect and analyze issues with their babies’ physical health--from thermometers to monitors--, but not a single one to monitor or understand mental development. This trend of never objectively understanding or analyzing a child’s mental health manifests itself more strongly in the adult population as a stigma towards mental afflictions. The developmental period of young children is instrumental in the formation of a person’s mental strengths and tendencies. In fact, (enter info about study about criminals marientina). On that same vein, we hope that Project Shelldon will not only be a tool to assist parents in gaining insight into their child’s mental development, but will spark a greater change in the way that communities, both in children and adults, currently approach mental health. We envision Project Shelldon growing from just a toy to a movement.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

We built the first prototype of this project at the University of Southern California, which is located in South Los Angeles, a largely underresourced area. We built Shelldon with the children of this area in mind--our aim is to be able to manufacture the toy at the lowest cost possible while maintaining high standards of quality. We also hope to implement a 1-for-1 program, in which for every toy sold, a toy will be donated to schools and organizations right back here in South Los Angeles (and hopefully eventually all over the U.S.). We strongly believe that Shelldon, and early child development analysis more generally, is a tool that should be available to all families, not just people of a certain socioeconomic class.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (1500 characters)

Parents give children toys to promote creativity, intelligence, activity, and a healthy psyche. Our project allows parents and other caretakers to see how well their child has developed through the toys they play. Currently, adults must make subjective observations of how well their children are doing. Shelldon analyzes the child through how they play with Shelldon, providing parents a tool to better judge their child’s development at home. There are many, many toys available on the market--and there are a rapidly increasing number of data analytics-based devices. But there aren’t many players at the intersection of those two fields. Shelldon will allow parents to not only enrich their children's lives, but also be more involved in observing their children's growth.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

With our mentors in the Keck School of Medicine, we will target our first users in the childcare department of the organization. In addition, with the team’s past involvement in Project Freehand, a initiative that 3D-prints and deliver custom prosthetics to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, we plan to utilize the network we have built surrounding children and health to target our initial institutional customers. By marketing and conducting testing in these two groups, we hope to gain a set of initial adopters. We also plan to partner with local schools and after-school organizations. The toy market has $90 billion in revenue, and specifically, the smart toy market is a rapidly growing market that has $5 billion in revenue. In addition, the IoT healthcare market is projected to grow to $158 billion by 2022. An important characteristic of our primary market is that the large majority of the market is owned by a few toy makers, who primarily extend existing lines (Ex: Barbie, LEGO) or create movie-based toys. Bottom line, the markets we are entering are large, continuously growing, and currently do not have much innovation--which we believe will enable our product to succeed.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

As biomedical engineering students, we engineered and designed the first prototype over the course of half a year. During this process, we identified several issues with our original design concept and worked to fix these critical issues. We are now on Stage 2 of our development and are currently working to refine and build upon our original product. By engineering and re-engineering our prototype, we are working out any kinks in terms of the engineering feasibility and we do not expect to meet any unbeatable challenges. Beyond the technical feasibility, we mainly foresee our feasibility challenges in the realm of obtaining enough funding for the initial investment to manufacture the products. Once we reach this stage, since we have had a lot of initial interest from potential customers, we plan to crowdfund any remaining balance we require to get the manufacturing process off the ground.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (1500 characters)

Shelldon lies between two large, everlasting markets: children’s toys and health technology. With smart technology and data analysis, Shelldon provides its target market a unique value proposition; children get a fun toy, while parents gain greater insight into their child’s executive functioning and overall mental health. We are mentored by industry experts, Professor Marientina Gotsis of the USC Creative Media & Behavioral Health Center and Dr. Beth Smith of Keck Medical’s Infant Neuromotor Control Laboratory, to ensure that we are solving a viable problem. We have done preliminary user research and focus groups to ensure that the product is market viable.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (1500 characters)

Human centered design is at the core of our project. We are very aware that if our product does not feel natural and comfortable in the end user’s hands, it will not be used. Our project contains two end products, the Shelldon toy for the child and the Shelldon iOS/Android application. As mentioned elsewhere in the application, we currently have Stage 1 Shelldon prototype built--the goal of which was to evaluate the technical feasibility of the project. We are currently working on a Stage 2 Shelldon prototype, in which we are focusing on making tweaks to the original prototype that make it more user-friendly for our end user, the child. We are performing research of child ergonomics and analyzing the physical features of current market offerings. Within the next few months, we plan to take Shelldon to the “field” and observe the way children interact with the toy. We will use these observations to reiterate to create a final product. For our second user-facing component, the mobile app, we plan to undergo an extensive UX prototyping phase utilizing Invision and Adobe XD. We will test these prototypes and mockups throughout the design and development phase.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

We are seniors in Biomedical Engineering, and therefore have expertise in electrical, chemical, and mechanical engineering along with a deep understanding of human biology. Despite our similar educational background, we have varied interests, and this is what we believe will allow us to successfully launch this venture. Nikita has successfully launched two startups in the past and will be attending business school in the fall. Nikita also led the Freehand Initiative while at USC, which designed and provided custom prosthetics for children at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. It was through this experience that Nikita became passionate about children’s health and development. Jeffrey’s specific expertise is in the intersection of health and games, and is especially focused on clinical applications with plans to go to medical school. Jeffrey has tutored students with learning disorders, a formative experience that contributed to the creation of Shelldon. We also have a strong mentorship team of industry experts.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (500 characters)

Since our product lies at the intersection of sveral fields, we have obtained partners and mentors in a variety of fields. We are working with Marientina Gotsis, an industry expert in child behavior and games, and her lab, the USC Creative Media and Behaviorial Health Center. In addition, Dr. Jean-Michel Maarek of USC Viterbi has been our engineering and prototype advisor for the project.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

Making our product in mass quantities is an upcoming challenge for our project, so going forward, we are looking for mentors and partners in the manufacturing and distribution space.

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Attachments: Please upload relevant attachments or graphics or show us how you prototyped.


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