Health IT

Jerry the Bear helps kids understand diabetes and self-care

Child feeds new Jerry the Bear prototype.

Child feeds new Jerry the Bear prototype.

Move over, Teddy The Guardian. There’s another toy bear on the loose.

Unlike Teddy, Jerry the Bear doesn’t monitor the health status of the child, but rather teaches children with Type-1 Diabetes how to manage blood-glucose levels, maintain a healthy diet and more, through interactive games and play. He’s got a “Glucopal” touchscreen in his belly, sensors that detect injections in his legs, arms and bum, and an RFID in his mouth that senses when he’s being fed food cards, an insulin pen and a backpack.

“With Jerry, kids can learn in a real world scenario without real world consequences,” co-founder and CEO Aaron Horowitz said.

The bear was thought up and created by co-founders Horowitz and Hannah Chung of the Providence, R.I.-based startup Sproutel, which focuses on creating toys that advance patient education for children with chronic illnesses.  The inspiration came as Horowitz and Chung visited and talked with kids with Type-1 and their families and doctors. Horowitz said they noticed one uncanny pattern. Sure, the kids had well-worn bears–ears falling torn at the seams, etc.–but these children were pretending to inject their bears with insulin.

“These children were really mirroring their emotions and what they were going through with these bears,” Horowitz said. “And so we started building bears that were a bit more interactive to facilitate behaviors kids were already doing.”

Jerry differs from Teddy in that he has a narrative and game. Jerry is an aspiring Olympian who must keep his Diabetes in check to meet his athletic goals. The game aspect is an important one, Horowitz said, as a “diabetic Tamagotchi” isn’t going to hold a 2013 seven-year-old’s interest for long.

“I believe that children are hands-on learners. They learn about dirt by playing in the dirt–they don’t read about it on the Internet,” Horowitz said.

Thus, likely increasing the amount of furry medtech we see in the coming years.

Horowitz has a background in human-robot interactions, and foresees those kind of interactions with a physical interface driving the medtech toy industry. Judging from the buzz around Teddy and Jerry, he’s probably right.

Sproutel started with 250 bears, and as of this post, are still in pre-sales but are now down to 80, which they hope to push before Aug. 1.

Sproutel’s next step with Jerry: a “report card” service for parents (sound familiar?) that reports how a child cares for Jerry, linking the correlation between play patterns and real-life decisions. For instance, if a kid is great at monitoring Jerry’s glucose level but feeds him a meal of eight juiceboxes–you see where this is going. Sproutel is currently building out this reporting system, Horowitz said.

As Sproutel sprouts on to new projects, the next chronic illness they’d like to help educate children about is asthma.

According to Horowitz, Sproutel raised a round of more than $275,000 in angel funding last year, and is currently seeking another round.

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