Kristy's TTTW

Kristy's TTTW

by kristina.t.johnson | updated May 04, 2016

Expanding SPRING!



SPRING:  Smart Platform for Research, Intervention, & Neuro-developmental Growth

SPRING is a research device in the form of a toy, designed to help us understand and augment learning progressions in very young children with significant neuro-differences (e.g., autism, genetic disorders).



(Drawing of SPRING courtesy of Akshita Sivakumar.)

April 4, 2016 at 5:12 PM
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Could you help me to understand some of the inspiration for this project - either personal or the research / understanding that has pushed you to go in this direction? How did you arrive at the current modules you are considering?
8 months ago
AMAZING! How young is very young.. infants, toddlers, combination? How are you defining learning progression? I thought it was going to be a slinky toy based on the title.
8 months ago
Great intro. I'd also love to narrow down "very young" a bit so we can better think through the interaction and learning experience. Do you have any readings on autism that you would recommend that could help us better understand the domain and challenges involved?
8 months ago

SPRING is designed to be modular; the center circular piece is removable, allowing a person to insert new modules to explore new skills.

What the modules should be (and how to design/build them) is the tough part!

Tiffany -- is there a way to rotate images in BIP once they've been uploaded?
April 4, 2016 at 5:35 PM
Comments (2)
Cool! I'm not sure if you're still deciding on your shape of the modules, but maybe there are module options that are smaller, perhaps cut up pieces of a whole, that could fit in multiple locations? One small shape could aggregate and become (and fit into) the triangle, the square, the star, and maybe not a circle, but a hexagon?
8 months ago
I like this idea, Carly. The trick is how and where to embed the sensors so that the response stimuli trigger properly...

I also like the fact that smaller pieces working in aggregate could lend themselves to more creative exploration, while still allowing for learning/teaching concepts in discrete developmental steps...

** More ideas under the Shape Sorter label **
8 months ago

PLACEHOLDER:  Upload exploded Solidworks image/video here

April 4, 2016 at 5:37 PM
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Not pursuing this step at the moment.

April 4, 2016 at 5:39 PM
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Not pursuing this step at the moment.

April 4, 2016 at 5:39 PM
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Not pursuing this step at the moment.

April 4, 2016 at 5:42 PM
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PLACEHOLDER:  Image of reed switch and wire setup

April 4, 2016 at 5:49 PM
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Problem:  The last LED "pixel" on the second strip was defunct.

Solution:  Solder a jumper wire over that pixel to the next segment.  Success!

April 4, 2016 at 5:56 PM
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Getting closer, but still not there.  The ground and power lines exhibited full connectivity (via a multimeter), but I couldn't pass data.  (There's no way to check for data flow with a multimeter; you can only just wire it up to the Arduino and see if it glows.)

Tried adding jumper wires to new LED pixels and resoldering the existing wires, but to no avail.

Problem:  Data line (white wire) was somehow defunct.

Solution:  Cut a new LED segment and replace the whole piece.  


April 4, 2016 at 6:04 PM
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After the fixes described in the previous steps, all the segments glow with pride! 

April 4, 2016 at 6:09 PM
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Whoaa congrats! What an exciting story leading up to a happy end! So much to learn from this, thanks for sharing!
8 months ago
Cool! Are these lights to give feedback during the game, or will they be cycling persistently while the device is on? Maybe each side can represent a progression within a level or stage of the game?
8 months ago


Problem:  The wires between each LED segments are small and must be soldered at a very specific angle.

Problem Solving Attempts: 
- Hold the wires and the segments on third arms and solder in the air.  // Too hard to get everything to stay.
- Connect segments with small pieces of paper and use copper tape instead of wire.  // Clunky and not sturdy.  The tape cannot overlap, which meant I had to run solder over the overlapping corners, increasing the resistance and making for a lot of work.

Solution:  Cut out paper in the exact shape of the hexagon.  Glue LED segments and the tiny wires to paper using rubber cement-like glue.  Solder.  


April 4, 2016 at 6:18 PM
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The smartphone (via the Arduino & Bluetooth) logs each interaction with the device.  

That includes:
- What module is in the base​
- What level of the module is being played (See "Module Levels" step for more information)
- Each interaction with the device -- labeled and timestamped.  (E.g., for the Shape Sorter Module, each instance that a square is placed in the square hole, the data logs, "Square shape inserted! 05:01:01")
- What reinforcement or "reward" was presented for that successful action.  (E.g., when the user correctly places the square, a short display of dancing lights or a 2-second cat video may pop up on the screen.  The data logs, "CatVid2 played. 05:01:03")

With this information, I can track the progression of the child as he/she explores the toy.  I can tell how long they interact with the system, at what level, and how different types of motivation/reinforcement affect this interaction.

Research-ish Questions of Interest:
- Do I need to offer high-preference rewards for each attempt early on?  
- At what point in their learning trajectory can I space out these rewards and still maintain their engagement?  
- When they move up a level to a more difficult task/concept, do I need to start with highly preferred reinforcments again?  
- More importantly, can I slowly wean them off the need for a reward as a the task becomes easier?  That is, can I find the inflection point between extrinsically motivated learning and intrinsically motivated exploration?

- Can I robustly track progress using only a timestamp?  That is, as the task/concept gets easier, do they perform it faster?
- Are there types of reinforcement that motivate all the children in the population I'm targeting (neuro-atypical), or must the reinforcements always be customized?
- When do the children get bored?  How can I maintain the "just right challenge" to keep them engaged?

April 15, 2016 at 10:13 AM
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Running the LEDs with the full setup.

NOTES:  The light displays need to be much, much shorter (around 2-3 seconds) when used as reinforcement for the toy task. I can program each LED to run with any design, any color, or any brightness, for any amount of time.  These displays are for DEMO PURPOSES ONLY.

April 15, 2016 at 11:10 AM
Comments (5)
wow! that is amazing, very cool
8 months ago
Yaaay!! This is so wonderful!! :)
8 months ago
So great to see where this is going. Is it possible to drop an unintended object and still have the same effect?
8 months ago
Amazing! What happens if you drop in multiple pieces at the same time?
8 months ago
@joy --> Unfortunately, like a lot of toys and games on the market, the shapes need to have the right sensors in the right configuration to trigger the responses. I wish I could make any ol' object work, but I'm not sure how at the moment... Any ideas?

@carly --> Right now, nothing. Triggering sensor "interrupts" so that if you put a new piece in before the response from the last piece is done, it triggers on the most recent piece, is actually fairly tricky with Arduinos, but I'm working on it for future prototypes. For now, I just keep the response stimuli short (2-3 seconds) so that the null effects of rapid triggering are minimal.

I should add that I CAN have it do something special if you put pieces in at exactly the same time or very close to one another -- I would just have to set that as a option so that the Arduino looked for two inputs instead of one before triggering a response. It could be fun for social play (which is a mode I haven't discussed here yet!). :)
8 months ago

Since I didn't know how to connect the module to the base when I designed the rest of the unit, I tossed in copper pads that I thought I could "maverick" into operation.  Alas, in the photo you see, only the black cables provide a connect between the module and the base, and that's tenuous at best.

I plan to try pogo pins (***INSERT LINK OR PHOTO***) in the next prototype, but it will require a substantial redesign to get them to connect properly.

For the time being, I had to sacrifice the infinite interchangeability of the modules and just solder the wires in place.  (In other words, you can't take the module out right now without taking the thing apart.)  Hooray for prototypes! :P

April 15, 2016 at 2:01 PM
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In an effort to make a more open-ended, "creative learning" module -- that still satisfies the desire to learn an important developmental skill -- I will create blocks that interface with stimuli (lights, audio, video) on the base with scaled learning goals.

Most basic learning level = place block on top of SPRING --> reward
Next level = place a block on top of that block --> reward
Other levels = match a block pattern on the screen; use different sizes/shapes of blocks; build the tallest tower  --> rewards for each

Once the basic levels have been mastered, the user can activate Open Play Mode, which will provide varying types of feedback depending on the configuration.  E.g., two blocks next to one another plays a chord or turns the base blue, stacking them on top of one another changes the chord or turns the base red.

- Sifteo Cubes (MIT Media Lab spin-off): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dF0NOtctaME
- Beat Blocks (MIT Course 2.006 project):  http://lucialiu.me/beatblocks.html
- Tangeez Tangible Blocks (Maker faire):  http://www.coolhunting.com/design/tangeez-tangible-lights
- Light Stax (Light-up Legos:  http://coolmomtech.com/2015/02/light-stax-electric-light-blocks/
- Others...

Note:  I have had the idea for interactive blocks for ages (it's not exactly new to the domain), but I had not thought of incorporating it with the SPRING System until Chris suggested it during our Crit Group.  Thanks, Chris!

April 19, 2016 at 5:16 PM
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Most Basic Level = Put a shape in, get a customized* reward
Next Level = 


*Customized = if you like cars, you see a picture of 2-3 video of a car; if you like only red Ferraris with white tires, we can make that happen; if you want to hear a 2-second of Beethoven's 5th, you got it; if you like purple dancing lights, you'll see them.  

Likewise, if you hate specific sounds, lights, or other stimuli, we can avoid those all together.

We can "tune" the response stimuli to be highly motivating while also still regulating it to mitigate sensory overstimulation or understimulation -- we want to find that sweet spot that enables positive affect, engagement, and learning.

April 19, 2016 at 5:32 PM
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Shown in the photo are two baby dolls that I grabbed out of a free toy bin when my son was very young.  

The baby doll on the right -- "Dino Baby" as we call him/her -- has a bright purple, soft, stuffed dinosaur body with a triceratops hood that can be removed to reveal his/her face. The rest of the outfit, however, is permanently affixed.

The baby doll on the left -- "Baby Doll" as we so creatively call her -- also has a soft body composed of light pinks, blues, yellows, and greens, and includes a non-removable bonnet.  She also has a "giggle box" inside her tummy that produces a maniacal-sounding laugh when you squeeze her.

You'll note that Dino Baby seems androgynous to me; I've had difficulty assigning a gender to the doll.  Baby Doll, on the other hand, naturally became a "she" as far as pronouns are concerned, despite the marketers attempt to include some "gender neutral" coloring in her attire.  

I've never considered myself a "pink equals girl" kind of person and have tried hard to minimize those sorts of stereotypes and role delineators in our home (which is one of the reasons I made sure our son had plenty of access to baby dolls and other traditional "girl" playthings). Yet, clearly, despite my best efforts, I have been subconsciously swayed by Baby Doll's pink bonnet and shoes and who knows what else to definitively mark her as female.

Interestingly, my son has never taken to Dino Baby (who generally sits untouched in a bin of other stuffed animals), but appears to love Baby Doll with his whole heart (who occupies a prominent seat on our couch). Our son is nonverbal, so he has never told me why he loves her so much, but I suspect it has nothing to do with the packaging and much more to do with her maniacal laugh than anything else.  He loves sounds and music more than anything, and her giggles are a sound he recognizes from across the room.  She "speaks" to him in a way that other toys do not, and that certainly matters more than her attire as far as he is concerned.

Nevertheless, it has been fascinating for me to recognize my own implicit biases when it comes to baby dolls and toy packaging, just as my wonderful son appears to be impervious to them.  

May 4, 2016 at 8:20 AM
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