Four teams of seniors in the College of Engineering and Computer Science will help drive innovation by working with UCF Go Baby Go! to enhance the technology used in its adaptive ride-on toy cars. The students included representatives from all disciplines in the college; mechanical, computer and electrical engineering and computer science.
Each year, seniors choose a final project; a “real-world” challenge that needs their ingenuity to solve. Under the guidance of engineering faculty and project stakeholders, students propose and design a solution to the challenge.
This year, the engineering seniors took on the challenge to enhance a custom-designed set of wheels for a group of children with limited mobility.
Working with Go Baby Go!, an initiative of UCF Physical Therapy, the students are using advanced technology to bring cost-effective design to the toy cars that help these children get around, interact with friends and see the world.
“I have been incredibly impressed with the students – the way they communicate with families, the research they have done, and their creativity,” says Jennifer Tucker, director of UCF Go Baby Go! “We are so grateful to the faculty and students in the College of Engineering and Computer Science for helping us improve the lives of these children.”
Students will present the cars to the children and their families at the end of this semester. They will also demonstrate their projects at the CECS Senior Design Showcase in April.
As an adjunct professor in CECS, Félix Soto Toro ’97 ’01 helps guide senior students on their projects. The projects are required to have a direct benefit to people, but the Go Baby Go! cars are something special, he says.
“This is a project that is going to stay with me for a long time,” Soto Toro says. “Our students are not only working on programming and design issues that challenge the ways they apply their knowledge, but they are working with the people who will be directly affected by those designs.”
The projects began last summer when the seniors ranked their top three project choices from a vetted list.
Rejo Raju, a mechanical engineering major, was eager to work with Go Baby Go! because of his interest in biomedical sciences. He and his team will be designing a toy car for Solomon, a six-year-old with cerebral palsy.
Once Raju and the other students were assigned to the children, they communicated with them – and the parents – to determine the wants and needs of the family.
“I met Solomon and his family virtually, and they are such a great family,” Raju says. “They already had a car for Solomon, but it was challenging for him to use because he has some difficulty grasping the steering wheel. They were hoping the new car could have a joystick, which will make it easier for him to control the car.”
Raju and his team are also incorporating a few surprises into the design of the car, which began its life as an inexpensive, stock toy car.
But because Solomon expressed an affinity for Iron Man, the Marvel comic book hero, Raju is upgrading the joystick he requested to resemble a likeness of Iron Man’s hand. Solomon’s safety harness will also feature a replica of Iron Man’s glowing “heart” – a nod to both the heart and ingenuity involved in this project.
Raju’s team also includes Nafisa Mostafo, a computer engineering major who will provide coding and electrical work for Solomon’s car, as well as the other three cars.
“This project doesn’t end with us,” Mostafo says. “We’re just extremely grateful to help Dr. Tucker for this year. We’re just hopeful that we can do it justice, not just for these four kids but for all the kids who are in this program in the future.”
The collaboration with Go Baby Go! is the brainchild of Sudeshna Pal in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering who is the principal investigator of an NIH-sponsored project to develop a new curriculum in the area of Biomedical Rehabilitation Engineering.
Pal says that “with this new initiative, we hope that needs-based design projects will continue to promote collaborative and interdisciplinary education and research among students and faculty in engineering, health professions and sciences, and the College of Medicine.”
The interdisciplinary efforts between CECS and CHPS highlight the spirit of community partnerships behind Go Baby Go!, Tucker says. “We always want to push the envelope of low-cost mobility solutions for children, and this partnership helps us bring new solutions to life, customized to the needs of each child. We couldn’t be more thrilled with the outcome.”