“What’s your schedule look like this week?”
I ask Jesse this question as least once a week as we build Kites & Ladders, a business to amplify the voices of people with autism through tools that support self-expression and communication.
Why do I constantly pester Jesse about his availability? (And spend too much time in Google calendar?)
Our first Kites & Ladders product is the Harmony wristband, which uses biofeedback to help people on the autism spectrum become aware of their emotional state and express it to others. Getting to that point where people can purchase the Harmony wristband, though, requires collecting a bunch of biometric data, testing various wristband form factors, and validating the concept with kids on the autism spectrum, their parents, and experts in the field. Not to mention drawing on the wisdom of a number of engineers and industrial designers.
This means our calendars have been quite full over the last 6 weeks.
Early on, we discovered that we couldn’t find the right combination of sensors or get access to raw data using commercial fitness trackers. So Jesse soldered and sewed and hammered and coded and tinkered to create our own prototype. We can now collect data about the wearer’s heart rate and stress level and process it in a number of ways. Meanwhile, I sketched shapes, interfaces, and buttons to figure out what the device could look like in a more polished form down the road.
On top of building, we’ve had weekly meetings with at least two or three engineers, industrial designers, and leaders in autism or educational organizations to continue learning more about autism as well as hardware development.
Then there’s the testing…
So far, we’ve visited 9 homes and worked with 11 kids (both autistic and not) who tried out the wristband. As the device captured biometric data, we hung out and watched Annoying Orange videos (you’ve been warned–they’re annoying!), went to the library, observed piano lessons, paged through countless photos of ventilation systems, sat through frustrating homework assignments, and witnessed everyday life while taking notes about the child’s emotional state and environmental changes.
Through this process, we’ve become incredibly passionate about and committed to working in the autism space. One expert we spoke with said an autism diagnosis is often treated like a lid, not a ladder. Through Kites & Ladders work, we’ve met incredible individuals with autism who have a lot to offer the world. The challenge is how Kites & Ladders can support these people in reaching their potential.
So we carry that into the final weeks in our program. Our calendars are still filling up as we reach out to new people, test and refine our prototype, develop our business pitch, and figure out how to produce the Harmony wristband.
But those blocks of time encourage us, propel us forward, and remind us that we’re doing meaningful work.