The robotics team at The Barstow School wasn’t satisfied with just making one kind of modification to ride-on toy cars to transform them into serious transportation for kids.
As part of their efforts with Go Baby Go, a group that spearheads these projects to benefit kids ages 1 to 7, the team tackled a larger challenge this fall: transforming cars so that kids with the use of only one arm could steer them more easily.
Five-year-old Ethan Jones of Olathe received one of the original cars from Barstow earlier this year. But he had trouble controlling the steering wheel with just one arm. The team brainstormed and decided to modify a larger car normally controlled with two joysticks so that it only needed one.
“We stripped out the electronics, put in all of our own new programmed custom electronics, (created a) 3-D printed mount for the joystick, built an exoskeleton around it and put a harness in it,” said Gavin Wood, teacher and robotics coach Barstow.
Essentially, the car is a robot, and wiring it was one of the biggest challenges.
“In order to control a motor with different speeds, it’s not simple. You have to have a speed controller to tell it how much voltage to send, a brain for the robot. We wired it to a nervous system that’s like (your brain) when you tell your arm how hard to need to pull something,” said Wood.
The high school students, who also wrote their own custom programming for the project, are creating a step-by-step manual to share with other Go Baby Go chapters so that their hard work figuring out how to rewire the joystick cars can help kids nationwide.
Barstow’s team captain, 18-year-old Zuhair Hawa of Leawood, said the team took its experience from robotics competitions and really modified it for this challenge.
“Because we are a robotics team, we know a lot about wiring and programming, (but) this isn’t just for one or two competitions,” Zuhair said. “This is meant to last much longer. (It took) a lot of calculations and mental work before we went in headfirst and started cutting and drilling.
For Zuhair, knowing they were helping Ethan and other kids made the project an “absolute joy.” The car itself is in it for the long haul.
“This car, it could last (Ethan) until he’s a teenager,” said Wood.