Jerry the Bear — A New-age T1D Toy
Beyond Type 1 is proud to offer Jerry the Bear – the T1D tech teddy – for purchase here. Available worldwide, (not available in China). Uses both mg/dL and mmol/L. For purchases in Canada, visit here.
Meet Jerry. He’s a bear. Not just any bear though. Think: teddy bear comfort meets tech-world innovation. Built by Sproutel, an R&D studio, Jerry the Bear is a new-age teaching tool for children with Type 1 diabetes that simulates what it’s like to have the chronic illness. Through interaction with Jerry the Bear, children learn how to take care of him and in the process themselves.
According to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), “Type 1 diabetes is one of the most common endocrine and metabolic conditions in childhood; incidence is rapidly increasing especially among the youngest children.” (Diabetes Atlas 7th ed.) Early days of diagnosis are disorienting for both child and parents as the entire family must learn how to manage this unrelenting disease with rigorous testing and insulin dosing. The task is by no means easy.
The idea behind Jerry the Bear, the T1D teddy, is that children are able to check his blood sugar, feed him their own food selection (with carb counts) and then administer insulin for those carbs — all through augmented-reality play with their smartphone and a cuddly teddy bear with special embroidery. Sproutel’s motto is, “Diabetes management takes a village,” and with this realization, Jerry the Bear is not only a teaching tool for the child with Type 1 but also for the entire family and even extended community.
“It bridges empathy between child and parent,” says Sproutel Co-founder and CEO, Aaron Horowitz. “We have a lot of kids who use Jerry the Bear to explain Type 1 diabetes to their classmates. Parents have even given Jerry to grandparents and family members to test and see if they can care for the Type 1 child over night.”
The potential for this bear is vast in terms of educational outreach for the disease. And this is exactly what the company intended when making it. Sproutel believes that design can have a social impact. Hannah Chung, Sproutel Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, explains, “Design should also be driven by something emotionally compelling.”
The idea for Jerry the Bear came from a DiabetesMine Innovation Challenge, calling for people to submit new ideas to improve the lives of people with diabetes. Horowitz and Chung had met through Northwestern University’s Design for America, a program co-founded by Chung and dedicated to encouraging students to use design for social good. After interviewing families and observing children caring for their stuffed animals as if they also had diabetes, the idea for Jerry was conceived. After Jerry went on to win the Most Creative Award in the DiabetesMine Challenge of 2009, “all was left to do was build it,” says Horowitz.
Building it turned out to be a long process and set the friends on a journey that would change their lives forever. “We moved to Rhode Island as seniors in college to participate in a business accelerator program and implored our professors to let us Skype into class,” says Horowitz. “Providence is where all the toy design talent is. We lived in the attic of Social Innovation Professor Alan Harlam while working on the project, and were able to build our team of engineers and designers from there.”
“We graduated by the skin of our teeth,” he says, “but we built our bear.”
Jerry the Bear went through 29 iterations before the team arrived to the current Jerry the Bear 2.0 which is now available for purchase through Beyond Type 1. “We wanted Jerry the Bear to look alive, so the first prototype had blinking eyes from a Furby,” says Horowitz. “It just looked creepy.” The team has come a long way since then.
“By talking with parents and children who have Type 1, we learned more about the illness and discovered the importance of learning carb counts for a variety of food—including both healthy as well as junk food. We also found that in the early versions of Jerry the Bear, kids stopped playing with him after a short while, so we made him more interactive.”
The story-driven Jerry the Bear, complete with 21 e-books include adventures with Jerry the Bear’s friends — glucose and insulin — helped with engagement between child and toy. These stories correlate to learning a new diabetes lesson and are “unlocked” when a child successfully completes a management task.
Jerry the Bear is a teaching tool but he is also a source of comfort. “A lot of parents go home from the hospital not knowing anyone with Type 1 and feeling very alone,” explains Horowitz who suffered a growth hormone deficiency as a child and mentions feeling isolated and scared of his treatments. “When we observed kids with Type 1 diabetes, they were already using their stuffed animals to act out all sorts of medical procedures they found scary. This type of imaginative play helps children feel ownership and an agency through the care process.”
Spreading awareness while also providing comfort to children with Type 1 diabetes is at the core of Sproutel’s mission. Chung’s grandfather who had Type 2 diabetes passed away from a hypoglycemic attack when she was just in sixth grade, and her father currently has Type 2 diabetes. In the future, Sproutel hopes to create more friends for Jerry — tech-toys that help children with other chronic illnesses such as asthma and even food allergies.
Return to Meet Jerry the Bear page to learn more about Jerry’s features.