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Embrace the love of mouth and voice with Mouth Hero

Support kids’ oral sensory integration development in early childhood and bridge the gap between SLP clinic and home.

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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)

We started the ideas "Mouth Hero" while feeding and talking with our kids every day. It is a steep learning curve, and sometimes it causes frustration for both kids and parents. Therefore, we started to show our babies how to bite and make sound using his tongue, teeth, and lips, but it was limited by our availability. We also went through many websites talking about how other parents solved the issues in biting and speech using little tools, but the effects were gradual. This was because the current tools were developed individually for only part of the mouth. In addition, they either use screen or keyboard to show kids how to speak.   To help kids at the earliest possible age, we designed an artificial mouth. We think it would be interesting if we let kids play and see real elements of a mouth, and how those elements coordinate to bite and make sounds. We learned that the toys should be as simple as possible for babies and toddlers to play and understand. Meanwhile, we still need to maintain the coordination between the elements of a mouth. Therefore, we designed a mouth in a bear or a panel with the elements of a mouth that kids and caretakers’ hands can put in to mimic the movement of a mouth. We showed two designs to our mentor, and potential end-user such as kids, parents, and therapists, they all like the bear with a big mouth. We used the toolkits that IDEO provided to lay out the user experience map, and finalized the current design.

Name or Organization

Mouth Hero Team Members: Li-Lun, Ben, Ho; Chao-Ying Tang; Andy Liao

Geography

Members in the United States and Taiwan

What is your stage of development?

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

Type

  • Team

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

Our solution is to design a bear, Mouth Hero, with the emphasis on structures and coordinative activities of the mouth for babies and toddlers to play with and listen to. Our goal is to support and to bridge the gap between parents, educators, and therapists when they try to develop children's motor sensory integration such as biting and speech. We believe our design is a game-changer because Mouth Hero integrates all the dynamic elements of a mouth including lips, tongue, teeth, jaws for kids to touch compared with other toys which either emphasize only a part of the mouth or rely on screens.

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)

1. Design: Our innovation, Mouth Hero is a puppet bear for babies and toddlers to have fun to play with. It integrates the major elements of a mouth; their coordinative activities controlled by hand and articulation of voice. 2. Real experience: Kids and their caregivers will see, touch, listen and imitate what and how a mouth works to bite and make beautiful sounds. 3. Flexibility: Mouth Hero also have enhanced features to customize the teeth numbers and corresponding pronunciation depending on each kid’s development. 4. More educational benefits: Not only showing mouth activity and voice, caregivers can use Mouth Hero to show the importance of oral hygiene in fun ways. The design integrates the ideas of pediatricians, speech and occupational therapists, pediatric dentists and information technologists. Mouth Hero will revolutionize the education of children's oral sensations.

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

1. We want to help kids to develop oral motor sensational coordination in the earliest possible stages. 2. We want to encourage kids to know and try to use their integrative mouth activities in joyful ways. 3. We want to bridge kids, caregivers, educators and therapists by providing the most intimate and effective toys for kids to play.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

Nothing can be more memorable for parents when they first hear mommy or daddy from their beloved babies, and no baby can be more excited when they first make sounds and got attention from the world. Therefore, we design a bear, "Mouth Hero" for kids, parents, and therapists to embrace the love of the mouth and voice. Eating and communicating play major roles in babies and toddlers’ daily lives. Some of the eating and speech problems came from lack of development of mouth movement during baby or toddler stage. As parents of a two-year-old toddler, we have witnessed how our son, Aaron, went through various stages of mouth activity development, from only drinking milk to eating solid food, and from babbling to speaking in sentences, both in English and Mandarin. We observed his progress meal by meal, day by day. The process takes a lot of practice because any easy mouth movement such as chewing and articulation actually require significant motor-sensory integration for babies. It also requires huge effort to teach babies/toddlers about the coordination between lips, tongue, teeth, jaws and facial muscles as some of the elements are inside mouth; therefore, it is challenging to show how to place them in the right position while eating and talking. Sometimes toddlers with all the teeth even have issues chewing and pronouncing correctly as they do not know how to use them, and parents do not have the time or right tools to effectively teach their kids how to coordinate the mouth activities. To help babies and parents enjoy the process of learning how to eat and speak, we have designed a puppet bear, Mouth Hero, which composes all the structural elements of a mouth for kids to play with, instead of only showing the fixed elements of a mouth separately, or just using screen or recording system. First, we make the lips, tongue, and jaws which can be touched and easily controlled by the hand of caregivers. The simple design provides the flexibility of showing various dynamics and coordination of mouth activities. The inhalation and exhalation are mimicked using a bulb pressed by hand. In addition, the teeth can be magnetically installed according to the number of teeth that kids really have to mimic how kids can actually play in their mouth at their age. Second, we implement visual and voice contexts on the roll of cards in Mouth Hero’s belly. Kids can play with it and imitate the mouth activities?, make sounds like animals and sing phonetically. We want kids to enjoy exercising their mouth instead of only their eyes and fingers on the screen. Third, the backpack of Mouth Hero is a hub to store databases. Therefore, Mouth Hero can grow up with kids by downloading package that fits kids’ developmental stage the best from our website. Parents can also use their phone or camera to take videos of kids’ oral motor activities or record their voices, and upload through our app to Mouth Hero website. Our artificial intelligence algorithm will analyze the data, monitor the progress and send feedback and suggestions to parent or therapists to review at the earliest possible stages. Fourth, we design the teeth elements based on their geometric shapes such as using rectangles to represent incisors, triangles or triangular prisms to represent canines, and hexahedrons to represent molars for older kids to install at specific locations in Mouth Hero’s mouth. Our purpose is to use these elements as bricks for children to touch and help both kids and carens of different teeth. This also initiates the education of oral hygiene in early stages of teeth development as everyone can see the gaps and surfaces of teeth to clean. To achieve these goals, we have pediatric dentists and educators working on children with speech issues on board. Their expertise helps us to design Mouth Hero according to babies and toddlers’ learning process. Our ultimate goal is to help kids and parents to share the love of mouth, voice, and achievement of success while kids use their mouth in exploring and communicating with the world.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

Our idea benefits kids and the caregivers including parents, teachers, pediatricians, and therapists who help kids to develop the abilities of swallowing and communication.

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

1. Mouth Hero will develop oral motor sensational potentials in the earliest possible stages. Kids can play with Mouth Hero even when they only have lips and tongue in the earliest times. Although it is hard to observe the effects, kids still benefit from the simulations of Mouth Hero and their interactive experience. 2. Mouth Hero makes it fun for kids when they are learning how to use their mouth. Any kid who has interacted with Mouth Hero can get suggestions to adjust his/her capabilities of articulations using our integrative features of dynamic mouth structural design, and customized video and voice evaluation system. 3. Mouth Hero helps educators, therapists, and caregivers using the same platform to help kids’ oral sensory integration development.Oral motor development requires consistent practice from daily lives, therefore, we expect Mouth Hero can bridge and synchronize the method and practice between school, clinics and home using its integrative design of mouth and sounds.

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

Our idea will help children from low-income family in four ways, 1. Mouth Hero is an affordable toy. , parents have the flexibilities to decide how to use Mouth Hero under the supervision of educator or therapists with its extensible features. 2. Mouth Hero motivates learning interests and feelings of achievement for children and parents with limited availability of mutual interactions due to work. 3. Kids will benefit from their improved mouth activities by eating more efficiently; therefore, the possibility of malnutrition is reduced. 4. Appropriate training of oral motor sensational integration will help children to develop ability to communicate, especially for those who have the limited way to receive educational resources. This also saves the low-income family from spending on remedial therapies.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (5000 characters)

1. Our concept is innovative because Mouth Hero have coordinative activities of a real mouth for kids to touch and see how mouth works in a whole based on the expertise of the pediatric dentists and speech therapists. 2. Mouth Hero engages with kids by letting kids to play, produce sound, and exercise their mouth instead of screen and keyboard mainly used by the current ECD. 3. Mouth Hero is unique because the teeth numbers, mouth activities, and pronunciation can be updated according to the developmental stages of each kid. 4. The feedback from Mouth Hero is customized using our artificial intelligence algorithm and database; therefore, kid/caretakers/educators/therapists know what to do next. 5. Mouth Hero is economic because it can be used for other educational purposes such as oral hygiene.

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

Nearly 1 in 12 (7.7%) U.S. children have had a disorder related to voice, speech, language, or swallowing in 2016[1]. We will use Mouth Hero to reach pediatricians and children language therapists first, and expand to their caregivers and educators afterward. Secondly, we will extend the Mouth Hero to families who have kids between six months to three years old. We hope to use the basic design of Mouth Hero to let more kids and families enjoy learning how to exercise their mouths at the earliest stage of development. Meanwhile, we plan to implement more features in language and dynamic design of mouth elements in Mouth Hero, so kids who are older than three years old can still grow up with the companion of Mouth Hero and develop more challenging speech activities. Our ultimate goal is to let Mouth Hero have features pronouncing different languages to help kids in multilingual families as well as the families from all over the world. We believe Mouth Hero will develop the potentials of kids while they start playing with it. [1] The statistics provided by NIDCD (National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, U.S.), nearly 1 in 12 (7.7%)[1] U.S. children ages 3-17 have had a disorder related to voice, speech, language, or swallowing in past 12 months (from May 19, 2015, to May 19, 2016).

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

We have consulted speech therapists and educators with several years of experience in child language development as well as pediatric dentists about our designs of Mouth Hero. They all think Mouth Hero should be designed for kids to play with to motivate them exercising their mouth. This is due to kids learn how to speak and bite when they have fun. The experts think our Mouth Hero is an excellent design using real geological and dynamic features of mouth elements as Moth Hero do not have any electronic screen to address the training of oral motor activities; therefore, Mouth Hero can be a friend for kids to hold them 24/7. Meanwhile, we have built a database and a server to store the video and voice files from kids, and train the algorithm to test the accuracies of articulation by comparing them with standard pronunciation. Our intention is to incorporate the advanced artificial intelligence to assist the evaluation and provide suggestions for parents, educators, and therapists. Our immediate plan is to make a Mouth Hero with basic features and analyze the responses from babies and toddlers, as well as feedback from parents, educators, speech therapists and pediatricians. Below we lay out the plan for developing Mouth Hero for different age of kids 1. Initial Plan: We will focus on prototyping Mouth Hero with the basic mouth features and packages for kids between six months to three years old in the United States because we want to encourage them to access Mouth Hero regardless their family income. We want to provide free Mouth Heroes for speech therapists at their clinics first to see how Mouth Hero can help kids or people with speech issues. We also expect Mouth Hero can also significantly help people with hearing or visual disabilities to learn how to speak by touching as they cannot see the real movements in the mouth. 2. Mid-term Goal: We will work with insurance to provide incentives to parents/educators to access Mouth Hero as we believe focusing more educational resources at the early stage of child development will save more efforts and funding in remedial education or language therapies. We will also upgrade Mouth Hero to accommodate the features with multi-syllabus, pronunciation with compound words, and sentence-speech capabilities by integrating more dynamic design of mouth elements for kids older than three years old. 3. Long-term Goal: We intend to incorporate multilingual features into our design as more and more families speak not only one language, and each language may have different characters of pronunciation. We are committed to help children/parents/educators worldwide and let every family share the love of the mouth and voice.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (5000 characters)

We will use Mouth Hero website as the main platform. Customers purchase the toy and the card roll package from the website. And we provide the analysis and feedback service on our website by the artificial intelligence algorithm technology for free and it is life-long service for every serial number. Our future plan is as below, 1. Initial plan: We will focus on prototyping Mouth Hero with the basic mouth features and packages for kids between six months to three years old in the United States because we want to encourage them to access Mouth Hero regardless their family income. We want to provide free Mouth Heroes for speech therapists at their clinics first to see how Mouth Hero can help kids or people with speech issues. We also expect Mouth Hero can also significantly help people with hearing or visual disabilities to learn how to speak by touching as they cannot see the real movements in the mouth. 2. Mid-term goal We will work with insurance to provide incentives to parents/educators to access Mouth Hero as we believe focusing more educational resources at the early stage of child development will save more efforts and funding in remedial education or language therapies. We will also upgrade Mouth Hero to accommodate the features with multi-syllabus, pronunciation with compound words, and sentence-speech capabilities by integrating more dynamic design of mouth elements for kids older than three years old. 3. Long-term goal We intend to incorporate multilingual features into our design as more and more families speak not only one language, and each language may have different characters of pronunciation. We are committed to help children/parents/educators worldwide and let every family share the love of the mouth and voice.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (5000 characters)

We took different approaches to achieve human-centered design for Mouth Hero, 1. Interview and observations We went to friends and relatives’ house to observe their kids who are between two to three years old at their home. We found out that for families with toddlers under three years old, it is hard to make house tidy because there are always toys on the ground everywhere. So if the toys have too many small accessories, the small parts will be lost easily, and the toys do not function without missing parts. This is why we make the packages as simple as possible with only one physical element 2. Survey People like to download all things from the website when they need. Moreover, kids tend to love fluffy, and soft toy instead of hard and plastic toys. They consider the teddy bears as their best friends and hug (most of the time, they grab or drag them) almost every second when they are awake. That is why we abandoned our second product design, and make Mouth Hero from a panel design to a real teddy bear. 3. Response from user experience map Kids always kiss, bite, throw toys to the ground, it is important for caregivers to clean Mouth Hero easily; therefore, we put all the electronic elements in the backpack, and the card roll is removable as well. When caregivers want to clean up the bear, they just remove the backpack and the card roll, and put the bear in the washing machine and start cleaning. 4. Mentor feedbacks We adopted advice from our speech therapist and mentor to ensure the Mouth Hero fulfill the need of kids. We will describe in more details in the section of mentor feedback.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

We are a group of people who have experienced and shared the joy and frustrations when children develop their eating and language abilities. We want to support children/parents/families/educators when facing challenges in developing their kids’ oral activities with our creativity and expertise. Ben is a Ph.D. senior research scientist working on genomic and computational biology, artificial intelligence at Massachusetts Institution of Technology (MIT). His wife, Amy, is currently working as a periodontist in several clinics in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, including two pediatric dental offices. They have a two-year-old boy, Aaron, who is at the stage of developing eating and communication abilities intensively. Chao-Ying, a senior marketer working with an international chocolate company located in Taipei, Taiwan, and slash with an entrepreneurial mindset who works full-time in days, and working on side projects after work to make the world a better place with her creativity, knowledge and great passion. She is also a playful aunt who loves her nephew and niece so much. That is why she is passionate in the Early Childhood Innovation field. And since she has a degree in English Language and Literature, she has some knowledge of linguistic and learning new languages. Ben and Chao-Ying both finished MIT Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp in September of 2017 with great inspirations, passion, and knowledge of solving challenging problems in the society. This time, the love of helping kids to develop their mouth integrative activities brought them to work together. As family members of kids between zero to three years old, we faced challenges from kids every day, including biting and learning languages. We found out that kids use their mouth as a way to explore and communicate with the world. However, the learning curves sometimes took longer time and produced great pressures for working parents who tried to help kids to develop some basic activities with their mouth. During the process, we learned that babies/toddlers bite and make voice by imitating adults. We also found out that there are very few toys with clear mouth elements (lips/tongue/teeth/jaws) that can support parents to demonstrate how mouth works dynamically, especially when pronouncing and chewing food. That is why we came up with the "Mouth Hero" idea, an educational, fun toy that helps parents to teach their kids with all the activities related to the mouth. We hope Mouth Hero accompany any kid whoever need it to grow up. In order to make the idea come true, we invited Andy, an engineer, and designer to join us. Andy is a mechanical engineer who is excellent at industrial design, and also a great sketcher. In addition to the core members listed above, we also have educators for kids, pediatric dentists, and language therapists as our consultants to facilitate the development of the idea.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)

We would like to get more insights from experts, educators, and therapists in early childhood language development to know current status in the United States. We also want to reach out to more parents/caregivers of zero to three years old children in the United States to know how their parenting is like and see if there are any frustrated points related to oral activity developments that have not been solved. Moreover, we want to hear their feedback on the idea of "Mouth Hero".

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)

At the moment, we have already started working with pediatric dentists and caregivers of babies/ toddlers about our designs. In addition, we had feedbacks from educators working with children with speech disabilities for fifteen years. We are reaching out to more families, scholars, web resources and academic institutes working on the education of articulation in English. As kids grow up, Mouth Hero will integrate more complicated functions of speech which requires more expertise in linguistics. In addition, we will need mechanical engineers to design the elements of mouth working in more coordinative ways. Furthermore, we want to work with linguistic experts from different languages to help multilingual families and kids all over the world.

Would you like mentoring support?

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters)

We would like mentoring support in product design. In order to help us develop the features that can really benefit our end users and offer them a great user journey playing with “Mouth Hero”. We will also welcome any suggestion from lingual education or therapist for at early stage of children development.

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.

The draft design of Mouth Hero.

Mentorship: How was your idea supported? (5000 characters)

Once we were debating if we put the mouth in a panel or in a bear. Our mentor, Marta, gave a great piece of advice about how kids learn things. She told us that kids actually learn things through playing, and the mouth activities sometimes result from food textures when kids eat. Therefore, we decided to go with a bear and added a roll of cards in the belly of the bear. The information on the cards was to motivate kids to imitate the movement of the mouth, the sound of animals or eating something to exercise their mouth. Marta also suggested us to think beyond three years old by upgrading or expanding the features of speech. Therefore, we designed a backpack to be a hub for the packages including songs and pronunciation that each kid can try at their age. This backpack is designed as a removable part of Mouth Hero as we want Mouth Hero can be held by kids without considering the battery. This design will give us more flexibility to provide the materials to stimulate the curiosity of kids and Mouth Hero can be with kids as they grow up, which saves more money on other individual toys. In summary, we learned that we need to think from kids' perspectives, not merely from adults' educational purposes when designing toys for kids, especially less than three years old. It is the point made by our consultant, who has fifteen years of experience helping kids in speech classes at school, and our mentor, Marta. For example, we originally want Mouth Hero to be a teaching aid than a toy, however, we later found out that kids process and learn the world by playing, not by sitting in the classroom and listening to lectures. Therefore, we pivoted the idea from a teaching aid to a fun toy that kids want to play with every day.

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

  • Yes, share my contact information

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