UNT TAMS students create hoodie for children with autism

UNT TAMS students create hoodie for children with autism

UNT TAMS students create hoodie for children with autism
April 04
12:16 2019

Five Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science students participating in this year’s Project Invent have created a product they call The Helping Hoodie, a jacket which would help children who have autism when they face sensory overload.

TAMS is an early college entrance residential program for “gifted high school students” who are juniors and seniors, according to its website. Classifications for TAMS students at UNT are the same as the high school classifications.

Shaurya Kumar, a TAMS junior and project engineer, said that with sensory overload, the use of a weighted blanket or vest the most common solution to the issue. Because these options are both indiscrete and profiling, the students decided to create a hoodie which would help with sensory overload in a more “sleek and stylish fashion.”

“In all of our research, we couldn’t find anything that combined so many solutions into something that’s sleek and elegant and inconspicuous,” Kumar said. “Most products that deal with people with autism tend to be very profile-y. Like weighted vests, they’re very obviously spotted, they’re very heavy … as well as any other kinds of helping devices, they tend to be very out there.”

The main function of The Helping Hoodie is the hugging mechanism, which is activated by the automated strings inside the jacket. The pads on the prototype are currently made of cardboard, but will eventually be replaced with gel padding, Kumar said. The students are also working on incorporating a vibrational node system into the product.

“The ultimate goal is to have a product that people with autism are comfortable using,” Kumar said. “That’s why we actually have a make-to-order system in our business practices that we are deciding on.”

This function would allow buyers to opt in or out of each function and give them the ability to create their own jacket or choose one that has already been designed.

“I have really close friends and extended family members who have been affected by autism,” TAMS junior Sophia Xu said. “They haven’t let it stop them but it would also be a lot easier on them if they had this kind of device to help them function … it’s hard to fit in sometimes and I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a giant vest on that was bulky and that people would stare and make fun of.”

Their team, Project Cape, is one of only two teams from Texas going to the 2019 Project Invent Demo Day at Stanford University, both of which are from the TAMS program. This is the first year any teams from Texas will be participating.

To help raise the funds for this trip, they created a GoFundMe page where they have raised nearly half of their $3,000 goal.

“The ultimate goal [of Project Invent] actually just ends up being the fact that we get in touch with investors to get the money and resources required to make these products,” Kumar said. “Project Invent is meant to inspire teams to actually take their projects and make them real-life things.”

Project Invent fosters ideas and learning by giving teams the ability to present their work to real investors. Past participants have been able to turn their projects into viable companies which now help solve societal issues that many businesses are not focused on, Kumar said.

A team of five UNT TAMS students grouped together to create a jacket that helps individuals with autism overcome sensory overload. In this prototype, they have used pieces of cardboard to imitate pads that will compress once a button is pushed. Image by: Kathryn Jennings.

To learn more about how to improve the product, the team has been working with professors within UNT’s audiology, electricity and communications departments. They also participate in “design review days” at Discovery Park where they take their product to children with autism within the community to get feedback.

“We used this prototype [on Sunday] to demonstrate with a whole bunch of people that were coming with their kids with autism,” Kumar said. “They got to wear it and they got to test it out to see how it would work for them. They all had very positive reviews, very positive things to say.”

Through their mentor, TAMS senior Ritik Patnaik, the team collaborates with their community partner, Larry Dierker, who has autism. This helps them to get more feedback on the product and allows them to run their ideas by someone that could have benefited from something like it as a child.

“Their project is making a real impact in the community,” Patnaik said. “Until I spoke with caretakers of young adults with ASD, I didn’t realize the potential impact that Project Cape’s Helping Hoodie could have on the millions of people who suffer from sensory overload. So it is important that we have young people like students in Project Cape tackling the daily problems that our peers, like Larry, are facing. Our Demo Day in California will hopefully kick-start the team’s transition from a school project to a marketable social venture.”

To decide which issues to tackle, the group did research through the UNT’s Kristin Farmer Autism Center. TAMS junior Ananya Kodali created a survey for the center to distribute, which helps the team determine the extent of the children’s symptoms.

Besides experience with engineering, TAMS junior Sean Gao is trained in sewing and junior Parth Doshi has experience volunteering with children who have autism. The team got to practice their public presentation at TAMS Fair on Jan. 26 and took home the only audience choice award presented at the event.

The team will present at the 2019 Project Invent Demo Day on May 18 in Mountain View, California.

“I want to help people any way I can,” Kumar said. “Project Invent has given me this outlet to show my creativity and engineering passions and to design something that I know people will like, and use, and will help them to essentially better their lives in some way, and that is honestly the most satisfactory feeling.”

Featured Image: Members of the Project Invent “Project Cape” team finalize design elements at the design review day in Willis Library. Courtesy Project Cape.

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Talia Snow

Talia Snow

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