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Willy The Whale


Willy the Whale will opens its mouth and the children will see that he has captured many sea creatures. The children must face the whale's bites to reach into its mouth and save the sea creatures.


We developed an interactive toy that not only brings joy from simple interactions but also teaches empathy to children.


November to December 2019

Tools Used

Laser cutter, Arduino Uno, IR Proximity sensor, speaker, servo


Mechanical prototyping, interaction design, C++, on site user testing, observational research


Caio Araujo

The Challenge
How can we sustain the engagement time of children with simple interactions?
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I started with experimenting with different interactions between a human and a physical object and I decided that I wanted to expand on the act of "trying to achieve a certain goal with a fear factor".


I believe that the act of escaping a something fearful and being successful at it can bring a very unique thrill. I wanted to expand on this idea and create a toy that could embody this element, and this led to the creation of our first working prototype of a biting dinosaur. 

Surprising results from first on-site  user testing

With our first version, we tested our functioning dinosaur toy with children around the ages of 5 to 6. What made this entire experience most interesting to me was the interaction I was able to observe during these user testing phases. We discovered that the children played with our toy in ways we did not predict; they would take coins out from the side of its mouth to prevent being detected by our motion sensors, they would drop points from the gap on top of the dinosaurs head, and they would try to force the jaws open with their bare hands.

A simple and thrilling interaction, but how can we provide a positive message within this? 
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Even though the interaction was successful I wanted to add more meaning such as a positive message to this simple interaction.  How could we try to cultivate empathy by telling a story that the children were suppose to save sea creature from the mouth of a whale?

I started to brainstorm the different animals we could use in our character and how the features of a distinct animal could add to our story. We finalized on the idea of a hungry whale that is keeping sea creatures inside its mouth, and the goal is to have children help save these sea animals. This not only brought a positive message to the toy but also added a layer of complexity by giving a role to the children.


In our iteration with the dinosaur, the servo motor was attached directly to the jaw. We realized this was a bad idea quickly from seeing the children trying to pry open or close the jaw with force, thus breaking the servo.

Therefore, we modified it into the 'pull string method' mechanism that uses rotation and a hobby servo to open the whale's jaw.

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The improved mechanism for the movement of the jaws


The push board mechanism triggers the chomping of jaws using IR proximity sensors. A  board is placed on top of springs and a sensor, so when there is weight on this board the sensor detects changes in light or movement and activates the jaw. 

Initially we only had the sensor to detect changes in light, but this was not as accurate because the area covered would be significantly smaller. 


The 'push-board' mechanism with schematic

To add more complexity to the interaction, I thought that the whale could "yawn" when you pet its head. The sensors on its head would trigger the jaw to open wider and a whale sound would be made by a speaker. 

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Touching the whale's head causes a change in its behavior

Final Product
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Children putting back the fish after helping save them

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A child was afraid of putting his hand inside, so the mother was helping him overcome his fear