This rates as one of the Toy Hype teams favourite stories ever! At the University of Delaware, Sunil Agrawal, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, approached Cole Galloway, a professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and said:
“We have small robots, and you have small infants, do you think we can do something together?”
They wanted to develop a model system, using experimental robotics, which could provide special-needs children with developmentally important mobility. It didn’t take long for the researchers to create the prototype, UD1, a robotic car featuring a joystick and infrared sonar sensors with obstacle-avoidance software.
They carried out some initial research and the children that took part showed increased cognitive and language scores, as well as better motor skills. The researchers then converted the UD1 into a lightweight, convertible power-chair/walker. Some children could progress from being barely able to move their limbs to learning to move their legs with a power-assisted walker.
Then came the big issue, they had 3 devices, and over half a million children who could benefit from it. So, they modified the cars electrically and mechanically, transferring the high-tech abilities into a low-tech “racecar”. The racecars allow the children to behave more like typically developing toddlers.