Ingenious student engineers from the Biomedical Engineering Design and NASA Robotics teams in the University of Akron’s College of Engineering are working to customize electric toy cars fitted for area youngsters with physical disabilities.
The students, representing several academic majors, redesigned the controls, settings and other features of eight off-the-shelf Power Wheels vehicles for children whose physical limitations leave them unable to operate the cars using their factory settings.
Sophomores Hanna Mackey, of Seville, and Megan Bruns, of Brunswick, contributed work to all eight adapted vehicles, each one needing to fit the specific needs and capabilities of the child who would receive it. Some adaptations had to do with range of motion. Other disabilities required more support in some areas than a standard car would provide.
“Having this opportunity to help children with disabilities in Akron has been so rewarding and it is great to feel like a part of the community that my university is in,” Bruns, a second-year biomedical engineering major, said in a statement. “Watching this project help children has shown me that pursuing biomedical engineering is the right track for me. Being able to help solve or better medical problems for people is what I want for my future career and Adapt-A-Car helped me realize that.”
The vehicles were modified as part of the Adapt-A-Car workshop put on by Inclusioneers, a Summit County-based nonprofit organization that provides independence and mobility to individuals with developmental disabilities. The children were presented their new toys Friday at Lock 3, near the Akron Children’s Museum, during the organization’s Adapt-A-Car Inclusion Day event.
Bruns and Mackey consulted with physical therapists to develop the desired adaptations.
Some vehicles are now accelerated and steered with a joystick, others are accelerated by buttons on the steering wheel and push buttons. Desktops with the controls were installed on two vehicles to give an easier reach to the drivers.
Miller’s Rental and Sales Inc. and Numotion, wheelchair and mobility equipment companies, customized the seating for the young drivers.
“Working on the Adapt-A-Car team has been one of my favorite parts of my college career so far,” Mackey, a second-year exercise science major, said in a statement. “This project has helped me realize my passion for rehabilitation and pediatrics, and has led me to pursue physical therapy school upon graduation.
“I have loved having the opportunity to be involved with The University of Akron and the Akron community as a whole, and am so thankful for the opportunity. This project has not only been fun, but has furthered my development in skills such as communication, work ethic, and dedication.”
A group of three students from the university’s NASA Robotics team worked together to customize a Power Wheels Wild Thing vehicle, a 360-degree-turning model that features a two-wheeled designed with the operator sitting in a seat between each tire and controlling the vehicle with two joysticks.
The “Wild Thing” was adapted for Akron-based Cub Scout Pack 3310 to be used by any scout with a physical disability.
The team gutted the vehicle’s controls system and modified it into a 3D-printed single joystick control from the original dual joysticks for easier control. The team even developed its own programming for the vehicle with additions including a proximity alarm (with its own on/off switch) to warn the user and others if a collision may occur and a speed control dial to speed up and slow down as needed. A five-point harness was installed to the modified 3D-printed seat donated by Fisher-Price.
Team members included Shawn Sharratt, a third-year biology major from Medina and Seth Carpenter, a fourth-year computer engineering major, also from Medina. Other teammates are from cities in Ohio, Illinois and Pennsylvania.
Carpenter, who was in charge of logistics for the team and served in an advisory role, said in a statement that the project was “a great experience as an opportunity to be able to reach out to the community.”
“Throughout the development of the project, I was blessed to gain a better understanding of the problems that are faced by those less fortunate then myself,” he said. “After all the work that the team put into the project, there are times were you still wish you could do more.”
Inclusioneers has been partnering with students on various projects since 2015, and since 2017 for the Adapt-A-Car workshop.