Create safe and engaging space for children with autism to play

  • Project Type: Design Research, Prototyping
  • Team: Jason Lam, Sean Ahlquist, Yong Feng See, Brian Poling
  • Contribution: Design Concept, Prototyping, Interaction Design, and Installation
  • Deliberable: Deliverable: Indoor Playground Structure (12ft x 12ft


We were tasked with the design and construction of a large­scale working prototype that would be installed at Friendship Circle -­ a local therapy center for children with autism. The goal of the experience was to create an environment that encourages sensory regulation, physical play and social interaction. The prototype used programmable textile interfaces and multi-sensory visual, auditory, resistive and haptic feedback.



To help our clients understand our vision, we created small scale prototypes and visuals for how the children could interact with the playground structure. As a member of the interaction design team, I worked on visiting, documenting and volunteering at Friendship circle, as well as graphic/visual design, sound design, interface design, development and programming of diagnostic tools, and assessment of diagnostic data. The final design we conceived captured the ability to apply pressure at different ranges of pressure, and addressed social, sensory and communication challenges that face children with autism.


After the clients approved the concept and provided some feedback, we began to produce the initial prototypes. We broke into three main teams: Sensors, structure and interaction design. Based on the previous concepts, we began to explore what was possible with the the type of sensors we could make. A major issue that arose was not being able to use projectors, which limited the type of interactions and range of lights we could display. We pivoted to focusing on physical interactions and finalized on using pull, push, and hug as primary interactions. We dubbed our devices the “hug machine”, “kangaroo pouch”, and “jungle”. The hug machine and kangaroo pouch would be single user devices that vibrated and displayed different lights. The kangaroo pouch was activated by standing on the mat, while the hug machine was activated by hugging. These two devices were meant to help children calm down when they were escalating. The jungle provided single or multiple user interactions. To encourage social interactions, multiple users were required to achieve the full range of colors possible.


In the final stage, we began to build life sized structures that could be tested inhouse, then moved and installed at the actual location. To create a more immersive and connected experience, we included a ceiling structure connected by a series of LEDs.


Delivering is never easy. We worked day and night to be able to deliver the final prototype and there are still a million ways we could improve what we built. Limited by our tools (and time), we had to use crimping instead of soldering. This method compounded issues with wiring and we needed to rewire most of our work. Since we used a parallel circuit at the start, we had difficulties in troubleshooting later on. In the end, we added some additional cables to create a series, but the final product doesn’t have the desired durability we want and this may impact future repairs. For future implementations, a more modular system may be preferable