Engineering course rebuilds children’s toy cars to aid in rehabilitation

Sarah Ricevuto

Engineering students redesign ride-on toy cars to meet the needs of children with physical disabilities. Photo by Robert Curtis
Engineering students in this class redesign ride-on toy cars to meet the needs of children with physical disabilities.
Photo by Robert Curtis

All over the lab, students are huddled in groups around small, brightly colored toy cars. Some students take measurements while others dive in and begin unscrewing plastic parts, discussing the benefits of helmets, joysticks and bull straps.

The students are part of a UNF engineering course that rebuilds toys for children with physical disabilities to make the toys safe for use and to aid in rehabilitation.

Dr. Juan Aceros, assistant professor of electrical engineering, said these engineering students are building the toy cars. Another senior engineering design class instructed by Dr. Alan Harris, associate professor of electrical engineering, and Dr. Paul Eason, associate professor of mechanical engineering, are working to build sensors that will record data of the child’s learning and rehabilitation.

The class will also work with other UNF students studying physical therapy. Dr. Mary Lundy, assistant professor of clinical and applied movement sciences, said the physical therapy students intend to work with the children in the rehabilitation process with toy cars.

“[Physical therapy students] will meet with the engineers to talk about what the child needs,” Lundy said.

The engineering students take the shells of battery-powered ride-on cars and remodel them based on the child’s background and disability.

For example, one group received the profile of a child with Spinal Muscle Atrophy Type 2, an incurable disease that causes muscle weakness and the inability to sit without support. The students discussed devising a helmet system and armrests to hold up the child’s head and arms.

The class is offering students unique experiences that are not present in a traditional engineering class. “It’s sort of like a hands-on application of what we’ve learned so far,” Amber Katada, a senior studying mechanical engineering, said.

Marissa Miller, an electrical engineering senior, said the project is rewarding and unlike anything she has ever done before.

“In the engineering side, I’m getting hands-on experience but I’m also helping people,” Julie Trembley, a mechanical engineering senior, said.

This project is an example of the countless exciting classroom opportunities, including undergraduate research, available at UNF. The students in Aceros’ class are working on their own version of research that will better prepare them for graduation.

Photos by Robert Curtis

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Email Sarah Ricevuto at [email protected]