A problem you can shake your Stix at
Father and son duo, Liam and John Murphy have created mindfulness products for children with ADHD, after Liam’s family member developed it, and as a family they didn’t want to put him on the standard medication doctors usually prescribe to treat the problem.
“A family member of mine has ADHD, and so as a university project I decided to investigate the possibility that mindfulness is better than medication for the disorder. It’s about learning how to work with ADHD, not just control it.”
Liam studied product design at the University of Brighton, where he started the project, and then after university, whilst working in a packaging company in London, came across CRL. He said: “It was perfect timing and so I decided to pitch the idea with my dad.”
Being on this year’s CRL cohort, sponsored by Mouser Electronics, is the first time the two are working together, and were very pleasantly surprised they made it on to the accelerator programme. “With 80-90 applicants who applied and only six places, to say it was a shock to get one is an understatement. I invited dad along to pitch with me, as he used to be a Senior Director in many organisations so had a lot of experience,” Liam explained.
John joked: “Liam is the boss, but I love it, so far it has been a wonderful experience.”
Asking more about the product Stix are trying to develop Liam explained: “It is quite difficult to get a child to sit down and look at mindfulness, so we have tried really hard to find a balance in activities.”
Stix is essentially two interactive stick-like handheld remotes that provide children living with ADHD with activities to improve their mindfulness such as meditation and balance. The four activities that are currently included are:
- Body scan
- Stix Focus
- Stix Sounds
The two remotes are linked - one goes around your right wrist, one on your left and through hand movements they talk to you. You are then given feedback through the lights and haptic sensors. “These children need stimulus, the Stix takes your mind off the fact you are concentrating and doing some mindfulness activities, it is more fun-like a game for them,” Liam explained.
The bigger picture is hopefully seeing more children actively practice mindfulness, and wanting to do so, as Liam explained. “We are six months in so far, and we have learnt a lot from a neurodiversity perspective. We should value neurodiversity in its own sense.”
Stix isn’t just about children learning more mindfulness and having fun, it is also about looking at ADHD as a disorder and seeing where improvements can be made. Liam explained: “Children with ADHD have many characteristics that are good, and that can be powerful. So it is about getting them to self-manage - there are lots of positives to offer, getting them to understand that, and utilising it. Another aim is bringing that to the attention of people.”
Liam and John were both very passionate about the matter, as Liam expressed: “Behavioural change is often seen as a negative, but we need to change this.”
Quite early on in this project the pair got engaged with a charity in Hornchurch, Liam said: “They have been very supportive, and it is quite clear that we both believe in the same thing. It’s not necessarily about stopping the medicine, but introducing something more supplemental.”
Learning about all the symptoms of ADHD has been an eye-opener for me, and shows that ADHD is often just used as a label. John explained: “You hear a lot of, that it’s hyperactivity, lack of attention, and so many more that are just instantly labelled. It is actually a spectrum, and how much of the disorder you have varies greatly.”
The pair explained that you often find the label leads to unnecessary medication, which is what they are trying to change. Liam said: “This is one of the main drivers for the product, as I saw it in my family member - he only has a mild form of it.”
Although this was the focus, Stix is not just for children with ADHD, it is also an entry point for children doing more mindfulness exercises. Liam said: “It is important to manage anxiety and stress, as it is a lot more common these days.”
People have questioned the link between mindfulness and gamification, but Liam explained: “We have done it in a subtle and rewarding way. One of our biggest findings was that children need rewards.”
There is a lot of technology involved in the products:
- The remotes work with movements so they include sensors to control this.
- The Stix have speakers to provide instructions to the children and to incorporate the activities.
- The haptic monitors allow them to shake.
- LEDs are used for colour changing lighting.
- Bluetooth connectivity will link to the app, which is how all the activities are worked.
As the technology is a big part of this product, that was one of the biggest appeals of CRL, the tech side of things. Liam said: “I couldn’t code, so the team and engineers here have helped so much. We couldn’t have done it without Jim and the Product Development team.” Whilst at CRL the pair have been 3D printing the Stix, so have been able to work on the shape and design of the product. “There have been a few prototypes, and we are now working on the final shape.”
Stix has also been awarded an Innovate UK SMART grant, Liam said: "This will be an eight month project taking the product to MVP stage ready for a proper launch, allowing us to hire an electronics engineer and software engineer along the way." It has taken a little time, but another big accomplishment for the pair is being awarded its registered trademark, which only happened very recently, and are currently patent pending.
Electronic components distributor Mouser have come together with CRL the UK’s first purpose-built hardware accelerator programme, as six startups join the latest cohort, as part of the innovative collaboration.
Mouser, the New Product Introduction (NPI) leader empowering innovation will have a key role in the product development process as the company aims to provide support and services from its extensive network of supplier experts, with signposting within the CRL space guiding members to where they can find and benefit from the full range of Mouser services. Additionally, Mouser will also provide specific technological insights through open events and workshops, including CRL’s Demo Day in November, which provides an opportunity for applicants in each cohort to pitch and demonstrate their inventions to potential investors and partners.