Robotics Club builds pint-sized mobility devices

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Child-sized vehicles modified by SVSU engineering and robotics students were given to children with disabilities on Friday, Oct. 12, in an extension of the Go Baby Go mobility program.

This nearly year-long effort began with the Robotics Club’s participation in the NASA Robotics Mining Competition, which requires participants to create projects focusing on bettering the community.

As the club searched for a community-centered project, Bangor Central Elementary technology teacher Janel Caverly reached out to SVSU to help her create a local Go Baby Go chapter.

Go Baby Go is a national program that puts together Power Wheels-style cars for kids with disabilities. Some research has shown that increased mobility through these toys encourages improvement in children’s social and cognitive skills.

“My goal is to inspire my elementary students to use technology to help others,” Caverly said. “After I saw a news segment about Go Baby Go, I spent considerable time researching Go Baby Go, their websites, videos, designs and mission, and I knew it was something I wanted to do. But when I contacted Go Baby Go, I was told I needed an electrical engineering background. Since I lacked that, I turned to my alma mater, SVSU.”

Caverly was put in contact with Rajani Muraleedharan Sreekumarid, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, and it moved beyond the Robotics Club to become a senior capstone project.

Electrical engineering senior Donald Horner originally had a solar-powered water monitoring system project through Consumers Energy lined up for his senior design team, but the Go Baby Go project caught his attention.

“When I discovered what the Go Baby Go was all about, I was 100 percent on board,” Horner said. “I have three kids of my own, and if they were ever in need of a program like this, I don’t have the words that could describe how much gratitude I would have for someone to do that for them.”

The project included modifying three vehicles, two for local children while the third will be used as a model to encourage the SVSU Go Baby Go chapter. The first vehicle, already given to a child named Joey, was a Jeep model. Since Joey is unable to use the steering wheel at this time, SVSU students modified the vehicle so it can be controlled remotely by Joey’s parents.

The other two vehicles will be built identically, and another local child, Liam, will receive his at the end of the semester. Liam’s family chose a Chevy pickup-style vehicle, which posed a challenge in hiding the extra electronics the students added. Because holding onto a steering wheel for extended periods of time could be tiring, the students designed a joystick and extra safety features. These include front and back bumper sensors for crash avoidance and a seat belt sensor that will have to be buckled before the toy is operational.

These added features are controlled and installed by Arduino micro-controllers and relay logic, which remain hidden in a box mounted under the bed of the truck so none of the play purposes of the toy are compromised.

The team of students are faithfully documenting every step of the project and will post these documents of the design and instructions on their web page.

Horner is grateful for the experience to work on a project so focused on bettering the community and the lives of these children.

“I’m so happy to be a part of the Engineering Department and this project here at SVSU, giving back to the community and helping children in need,” Horner said. “It makes all the years of sleepless nights doing homework after you get your own kids’ homework done, getting them to bed, packing their lunches, missing out on family events because of studying for exams … well worth it.”