Go Baby Go! Alternative Electric Mobility for Kids at SFU

General Engineering & PT Departments | 07/27/2023

Go Baby Go! Alternative Electric Mobility for Kids at SFU

The GoBabyGo! project has found roots at Saint Francis University. The project's mission is to provide mobility and quality-of-life solutions for children whose access to such may be limited during their early developmental years for various reasons. This summer, a group of Physical Therapy  and undergraduate General Engineering students took on the challenge of providing such a solution – a custom-modified Power Wheels car – to a local child struggling with some physical disabilities impeding her from getting around on her own. Where insurance was unable to provide, Saint Francis University came through.

Serving as Work: Engineering and Physical Therapy

Ultimately, the fields of Physical Therapy and Engineering exist to do one thing: serve others. While the opportunities for Physical Therapy students to serve are self-explanatory, Sabrina Engin, a rising junior in General Engineering, enjoyed working on the project because she realized a chance to use her education to help someone. Sabrina notes, "My overall goal [as an engineer] is to create something that can be used to benefit others." While engineers don't wear scrubs, Sabrina exemplifies how engineering at Saint Francis University is not lost in the technology of the trade but is fundamentally about people. According to Br. Marius, an engineering instructor advising the project: "Without people, nothing we do as engineers has a purpose."

The Project: Alternative Mobility

Electric wheelchairs provide a convenient form of mobility for children and adults, allowing them to interact with the world around them. However, as very young children rapidly change during the first few years of their life, it is difficult – and expensive – to keep them fit in a powered wheelchair. Paradoxically, this is also the time of life where being able to interact with the local environment has the greatest impact on human development, and, if a child cannot walk, their ability to do so is limited. This project proposed to bridge the gap by instead adapting a Power Wheels car to a specific child's needs.

The first step was evaluating the child's needs both in terms of mobility and the child's physical ability to interact with the environment. The five Physical Therapy students on the project, led by Dr. Cassandra Movinsky, provided the necessary background for this. The students in this project are now in their sixth and final year of Saint Francis University's Physical Therapy Accelerated 3+3 Doctoral program. Taylor Butterbaugh, one of the PT students on the project, enjoyed the synergy between the clinic and the build, "I most enjoyed working with a completely different discipline than PT and learning how to do some engineering." The largest hurdle to clear, she says, was having to go back and forth between the medical and technical sides of the project: "…sometimes things got lost in translation while communicating due to different lingo, and I am sure this went both ways! We worked around this, though, and found different ways to explain things to one another while working toward a common vision."

The modifications required for the project were relatively simple but required significant modification to the vehicle itself. The project started with simply relocating the gas pedal to a steering-wheel-mounted button, but additional items were required to suit the child's present and future needs as she grew. The car was also retrofitted with a stiff, vertical backrest, a new lap belt, and an adjustable mechanism to decrease the car's top speed to a pace that a walking adult could easily keep up with. All adjustments to the vehicle were made child-proof but easily adjustable by her parents to keep up with her needs as she grew.

Go Baby Go
Go Baby Go! Project:
From left to right:  Allison Meyers (PT), Mikaela Meyer (PT), and Taylor Butterbaugh (PT)
with the finished vehicle after a long day of work
Not pictured: Cora Emery (PT), Caroline Gillespie (PT), and Sabrina Engin (GENG).

The Future

Dr. Movinsky and her team are excited to have seen the program's first success at the University but are looking forward to more! With the students in General Engineering's Design for Service classes primed to create additional modules and components for future vehicle retrofits, she is getting ready to set up further opportunities for children from the local community to receive a custom-modified vehicle to aid in providing their mobility needs. Stay tuned for a date this Spring, and feel free to reach out to Dr. Movinsky if your child has a need that we might be able to fill!