UU Innovation

Smart chopsticks teach children to eat correctly

2016-03-11

Coping with chopsticks correctly is something that Chinese children are expected to learn early in life. Many parents want to quickly demonstrate its importance, and many believe that children’s eating behaviour sets the tone for their later development and schooling. It takes about four years for a child to learn to eat with chopsticks in an acceptable way. However, the learning curve is steep and the demands often high. With an innovation from two Uppsala University researchers, Chinese children will hopefully be able to quickly learn how to handle their chopsticks correctly.

“We are developing a new type of chopstick that also functions as a learning aid. It contains sensors that register movement and, via vibration, provide the child with immediate feedback when these movements are performed correctly. Hopefully our product will help children eat right faster”, says Gustaf Gredebäck, Professor of Developmental Psychology who, together with colleague Staffan Karlsson, is the initiative-taker behind the idea.

Gustaf Gredebäck, Professor at the Department of Psychology is developing smart chopsticks that provide information about children's fine motor skills.

“The Chinese market is enormous and demand for the product is expected to be strong. Despite billions of people around the world eating with chopsticks every day, there is nothing like it”, continues Gustaf. To produce the new chopsticks, the innovators combined engineering science with developmental psychology. But the result is not just about teaching children to eat correctly. The chopsticks provide information about the child’s fine motor skills in a way that was not possible before. For example, scientists hope to detect deviations in fine motor skills in young children much earlier in life, thus giving them the chance to quickly take appropriate measures and tackle the problem.

Other applications for the technology

“The technology exists, but the chopsticks need to be made smaller. Both technical and scientific challenges remain, the largest of which is probably building databases with relevant information”, notes Gustaf, who also says that they now have children coming to their Infant Laboratory in Uppsala to test the new product.

The chopsticks will continue to be tested and data collected over the coming months, both in Uppsala and hopefully in Japan. Gustaf also sees many other applications for the technology in the future; skiing poles and running shoes are two examples where it may be of interest to measure motor movement – preferably connected to a smart phone.

“As a researcher, the commercial world has been a real eye-opener for me – a truly rewarding and exciting experience. And still we have only seen the beginning”, concludes Gustaf Gredebäck.