Robotics Students Turned a Toy Car into a Wheel Chair for Special Needs Toddler

Rogue Robotics stepped up when Cillian Jackson’s family could not afford to buy a motorized wheelchair.


Robotics Students Turned a Toy Car into a Wheel Chair for Special Needs Toddler | Rogue Robotics stepped up when Cillian Jackson’s family could not afford to buy a motorized wheelchair.

Two-year-old Cillian Jackson's mobility issues left him with impaired motor functions, so his parents had to carry him or wheel him in a stroller. But his parents wanted him to have more mobility, so they started looking into providing a motorized wheelchair for their son. Unfortunately, their insurance would not cover the cost due to Cillian's age and the cost was prohibitive. So, they started looking for another way.

The boy's physical therapist recommended a program called Go Baby Go, an organization that modifies toy cars for children with limited mobility but there were no branches near the family's home in Farmington, Minnesota. Instead of giving up, they turned to the robotics team at Farmington High School and asked if the teens would be willing to take on the challenge.

Farmington robotics coach Spencer Elvebak told Kare11 there was no hesitation by his students. “I brought it up to the kids at a meeting, ‘Is this something we want to step up and do?’” Elvebak recalled. The sentiment was unanimous. Yes!"

Cillian's parents provided the Power Wheels toy car, and the team did the rest. They used plans from Go Baby Go and a lot of thinking power from building their own robots to modify the toy car into a set of wheels that would give Cillian more mobility.

According to Elvebak, the students wrote code to hack the toy car and gutted the car's electronics, redesigned the joystick, 3d printed a custom mount for the joystick, and customized the seat because the one that the toy came with was too large for Cillian. The students found a new seat on Amazon and added a five-point harness to keep the tot from falling out according to CNN.

"In education, in general, we tell [students] we're giving you the tools to apply in the future and do something with this," Elvebak told CNN. "Here's a perfect example of, 'Wow, I do have the skills to wire, code, program and approach an engineering challenge.'"

Farmington High freshman Alex Treakle worked on the main wiring of the car. He told CNN, "I decided to get involved with the project because ... I wanted to help someone, and it felt really good in the end."

The robotics team presented the car to Cillian in December 2018, and they were reunited with the tot and his family the beginning of early April. The motorized wheelchair has really given Cillian the chance to get around on his own.

Cillian's mom Krissy Jackson told CNN.  "It [the toy car] really helped his discovery and curiosity. ... Having the car has really given him the agency to make choices on his own."

Since the boy still does not have the physical maturity to handle a motorized wheelchair, the modified toy car allows him to keep working on proficiency and being able to explore on his own has helped with his cognitive development according to Tyler Jackson, Cillian's dad. This will help him when he qualifies for a motorized wheelchair to attend school.

The award-winning Rogue Robotics team has a slew of trophies on display, but this achievement is even sweeter. “I think we won here more than we do in our competitions,” team member Nicole Cash told Kare11.

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