Elephant Toy

ux | product | play
Overview
A toy designed and built for the Asian elephants at the Smithsonian national zoo in Washington, d.c.
Tasked to design, manufacture, and assemble a toy for the elephants at the National Zoo in an effort to bring two groups of elephants together. We designed the toy to be sensorially stimulating and entertaining. We found that sound and touch are large physical motivators, but the most exciting part is developing the toy to break expectations through movement. The toy was then designed to stay up-right until the elephants gave it a big shove. They were always excited when they tilted it back up-right with their large feet to continue their play.

Process

We spent a great amount of time doing research on materials and manufacturing methods that could withstand elephant strength, curiosity, and playfulness. We spent a significant amount of time talking with the elephant caretakers about the nuances of elephant play and communication. Through our conversations we found that elephants have highly sensitive feet and dexterous trunks that are often used during play. Those were key actionable moments that we wanted to implement into our design.

We spent a great amount of time doing research on materials and manufacturing methods that could withstand elephant strength, curiosity, and playfulness. Once we determined a design, it was brought through a CNC router as we were going to proceed with a lamination process of many slices of plywood. An advantage of having so many people in the class provided for a wide range of expertise. We had a few metal working students who devised a metal cone that would take the brunt of the play from the elephants. You'll notice coves or metal rings that hide the nuts and threaded rod as elephants are very dexterous and will take apart the toy if possible. Once at the zoo, we filled the lower cavity with sandbags to ensure that even with the metal top, the toy would still teeter up.

Outcome

This project and the process that came with it has become one of my fundamental blocks of my design experience. Having interacted and learned with so many different creatives and specialists to produce a gift for elephants is nothing short of amazing. To my understanding, the toy is still played with and can be sighted at the zoo.