The CatSynth was created as a part of a study organized by researchers from the Creative Computing Institute in the University of Arts London.
In this study alternative controller video game designers were paired with a disabled person to design an accessible video game controller. My partner for this project was autistic and pregnant. She wanted a device which would a) ease her anxiety when attending various doctor's appointments and b) allow her and her partner to bond with her child.
The CatSynth is a simple synth inside of a cat plushy. It is soft and easy to hold and plays soothing, synth-like noises. Comfort and portability drove most of my design decisions. Since my project partner would be using this device on the go, it needed to be easy to carry and appropriate for use in public spaces. The sounds it emitted needed to be easily muffled and turned on and off. The speaker is embedded in the tail and has a lot of padding around it. My project partner wanted to be able to put the speaker to her ear or to place it on her belly so that the baby can hear. Therefore, the surface of the speaker needed to be soft. The padding muffles the volume and allows the user to place the speaker on any part of their body.
The CatSynth also has a zipper on its belly, which allows easy access to the batteries. The electronics inside of the plushy are encased in plastic protection. These factors allow for continued use and durability.
My project partner really liked theremins, instruments which use magnets and gestures to make eery noises. She wanted to incorporate a similar gesture based interface into the device. CatSynth’s nose senses wavelengths of light in the environment. More light would result in sounds with a higher tone while less light would result in lower tones. She could control the amount of light in front of the nose by placing her hand close or far away from it, similar to how a theremin is played.
My project partner also had issues with fatigue and wanted to interface with the CatSynth in a way which would require minimal movement. I added a conductive material to CatSynths front paws. Lightly squeezing the paws causes different sounds to be made according to the intensity of the squeeze and the surface area of the paw that is being squeezed. A button interface would allow her to switch between “touch mode” and “gesture mode”. Also, an LED indicator would light up for each mode.
While designing the synth, I needed to make sure that the noises weren’t too screechy or jarring. My partner dislikes jarring noises and these would increase her anxiety. She also told me that babies respond well to noises under 500mhz. I made sure that the noises emitted by the CatSynth would not be much higher than that amount.
CatSynth has been renamed to Synthia and is currently with my project partner. She has taken Synthia with her to a few doctor’s appointments and has played it to her baby. I’ve been told that the baby enjoys the synth-like noises.