Lullaby Legacy


Larry Thomas Sr. of Copperas Cove, Texas, knows right where he was when he first heard about an inventive idea from his 17-year-old son.

“We were sitting out in the garage playing dominoes with family, and Larry Jr. asked me, what about a pacifier that plays music,” said Larry Sr. “I told him to Google it on his phone, and when he didn’t find one that existed, a bell went off in my head. It sounded to me like a good idea.”
The father called his sister, LaToya, the next day, and the family began research to pursue a patent and find a way to make it a reality.

Three months later, Larry Jr. suffered a single gunshot wound to the head in a drive-by shooting near his home on November 9, 2017.

“He died just a week before his 18th birthday,” LaToya Thomas said. “He had taken his tests and had plans to join the Army after he turned 18. He was excited about that.”
The Thomas family was devastated.

“He was a smart kid—athletic, played football, boxed, and loved to fish,” Larry Sr. said. He described his son as an adventurous child—the youngest of four siblings—who learned to ride a bike without training wheels at the age of 3. “Larry Jr. was outgoing—he made people laugh. He loved to have fun and crack jokes. He was good with his hands and with tools. I have a small remodeling company, and he used to love to go to work with me on weekends. He grew up to be six-foot-two with a good head on his shoulders. He wanted to be an engineer someday and own his own business.”

After his son’s death, Larry Sr. struggled with depression. “I went into a shell,” he said. “I stayed home every day. I didn’t do anything.”

Four people were eventually arrested for the crime. One is serving a 23-year prison sentence.
“When Larry Jr. died, his project died, too,” LaToya said. Six months later, she talked to her brother about not letting that happen, so the two began working together and were granted a provisional patent, launching Lullaby Pacifier, LLC in her nephew’s memory.

LETU alumnus Stephen Casey (’05) introduced Larry Sr. and LaToya to LETU Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering Dr. Hoo Kim. When the professor heard the story of the family’s tragedy, he was moved to make it a senior design project for his students.

Senior design projects like this one embody the learn-by-doing philosophy for which LETU is known. Hands-on, project-based learning is integral throughout the entire LETU engineering curriculum, enabling students to participate in capstone projects as part of multi-disciplinary teams. Students gain valuable, real-world experience in teamwork, collaboration and cooperation. They learn to work with others in mechanical, civil, electrical, materials joining/welding, computer, environmental and biomedical engineering—all among the degree concentrations LETU offers.

“I could see value behind the story of the lullaby pacifier,” Dr. Kim said. “I asked God to use us to help the family heal and recover.”

Kim said God brought to his mind Psalm 30:11 that reads, “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing . . . .” Once Kim shared the project with biomedical engineering senior Aiden Hagemann from San Antonio, Texas, Hagemann was all in and agreed to be the team lead.

“We call it LELP for LeTourneau Engineering Lullaby Pacifier,” Hagemann said. “Originally the idea was a pacifier that just played music, but now, the product idea has expanded.”

With a team including students from mechanical, electrical, computer and biomedical engineering concentrations, the LELP senior design team began last fall to research, design and prototype the smart pacifier. Their prototype does play music, but it also takes a baby’s temperature readings, vibrates to soothe a teething baby’s gums, turns itself off when not in use to save battery life, and provides parents with status information and controllability through either an Android or iPhone app.

Technical solutions the team developed to create the Lullaby Pacifier included a 3D-printed housing for the electronics to integrate with a pre-existing, replaceable nipple; a low-energy Bluetooth integrated microcomputer; a thermistor (thermal resistor), micro speakers, LED lights and vibration motor; and the Android and iPhone apps.

By February, the team had their proof of concept prototype. Their plan was to present the final prototype during the senior design seminar in April, but due to the coronavirus pandemic and all classes moving online, the senior design presentation seminar was canceled.

Despite that, Larry and LaToya Thomas appreciate all the work the students have done.
“The students at LETU are an amazing group of kids,” Larry Sr. said. “I respect them. Their parents should be proud. They are diligent, hardworking and committed. They blew life into Larry’s project.”

Hagemann said the Lullaby Pacifier was well worth the effort the students put into it. “The idea behind this project was to not only get a grade and finally graduate as seniors, but to make this sad story for this family into something great.”