People who are born hearing-impaired need something known as a cochlear implant to be able
to listen to sounds. But this is just half the solution. These kids need to undergo music and
speech therapy so that they can train their ears to properly listen and identify sound variations.
However, these sessions are held only once a week and for only an hour, so a lot of work needs
to be done at home which falls in the lap of parents. The problem is that the parents are not
trained to work in tandem with the curriculum the therapists follow. To address this challenge, I
created a device called the ‘TheraPod’ to help these kids practice music therapy in an
interactive manner when not in a formal therapy-setting.
A problem statement I created was in line with the ‘homework’ these hearing-impaired students
must complete. My idea was to create an interactive music therapy device, which was not only
fun, but also followed a strict curriculum set by the music therapists.
SDG (Sustainability Development Goals) in Focus:
I was focusing on United Nations SDG 3 and 10, good health and well-being, and reduced
inequality, by helping the mental health of these students and breaking the barriers restricting
them from living normal lives.
Initially, I thought of creating a robot with a microphone and speaker inside it. This robot would
be connected to an app on a phone and have 3 modes.
In the first mode, the robot would output a tune, phrase, word or letter. The child would then
repeat the sound. If correct, the robot would dance.
In the second mode, the app would ask the child for a word or sound. The child would answer
back on their own. When correct, the robot would dance.
This was the first stage of the device with two speakers. It would have 3 buttons, the first for
rhythm, the second for pitch, and the third for manual reset, along with a power switch. This
design could work, but it was extremely simple and very limited. Although I did struggle with
finishing this project in time, I managed to do so and create a working prototype. However,
when I came back to Mumbai, plans for upgrades were brewing in my mind. I wanted to improve
the sound quality, reduce the requirement of external amplification and increase the device’s
usability. After coordinating with a few makers in Mumbai, I settled on my final solution.
The TheraPod would be a simple box, with 6 buttons on it, an LCD display,
and a speaker with its grill. Since the box is opaque, all the messy circuitry would be hidden
from the user. The 6 buttons would all be connected to a common ground, along with 5 of them
connected to digital pins and the last one to a manual reset. The Arduino’s rx and tx would be
connected to a miniature MP3 player known as the ‘DFPlayer Mini’, and this would in turn be
connected to a common VCC and ground, along with the speaker. The LCD display would have
a soldered I2C module on it, such that it would need to be connected to the Arduino’s A4 and
A5 pins, along with the common ground and VCC. The box was created by laser cut acrylic, and
the buttons have 3D-printed keycaps on them to match their selected mode.