November 25, 2019
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High schoolers across the Midwest helped change the lives of 20 children with disabilities by hacking toy cars into motorized wheelchairs, allowing the children to move on their own often for the first time. It was an emotional, heartfelt event just in time for the holidays, as high school robotics teams are on a mission this holiday season to give every child the chance at self-directed mobility.
GoBabyGo is a grassroots movement that is revolutionizing adaptive technology. Instead of $25,000 for a motorized wheelchair for a child who may outgrow it in a year or two, these GoBabyGo innovations take ride-on, motorized toy cars and hack them into wheelchair alternatives for as little as $200 each. The Barstow School Robotics Team in Kansas City has become a global leader in the movement, creating more than 50 GoBabyGo cars through their partnership with the non-profit organization Variety KC GoBabyGo!, and hosting a global online forum to share their how-to manuals, which has gained international attention.
On Saturday, November 23rd from 10am – 1pm, Variety KC GoBabyGo! and The Barstow School’s Robotics Team hosted their largest Community Build and Hack-a-thon competition ever at The Barstow School in Kansas City, MO. This emotional event was the highlight of the year for these students, who hosted 12 high schools from across the Midwest, teaching them how to use their STEM skills to change lives using adaptive technology. Together, the high schoolers built 20 cars, and presented them (with big red bows!) to families with disabled children just in time for the holidays. In addition, the Hack-a-thon Competition awarded teams who built the coolest and most innovative car-turned-wheelchair for children with particularly special needs. These complex projects often involve rewiring, recoding, stripping the vehicle's control system and building a new one, such as creating a joystick-equipped WildThing, or adapting a car with sensors for a child with visual impairments.
“Seeing a child have a chance to move on their own for their first time in their lives is powerful,” said Lexi Dixon, Team Captain for the Barstow Robotics Team. “It shows us that we can use our STEM skills to change the world, even if it is one life at a time. We felt like we had to do something to help as many kids as possible.”
According to a Variety KC mom, the other benefit is the "cool" factor. A toy ride-on car is something EVERY child recognizes and enjoys. A child riding in a GoBabyGo car feels more included than when they are in their wheelchair.
The Barstow students have been inspired by Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST Robotics and inventor of the Segway and slingshot among other inventions, to spread their innovations on a global scale. They’ve also met and partnered with Dr. Cole Galloway - Professor of the Biomechanics and Movement Sciences Program at the University of Delaware, who founded the GoBabyGo movement. The team’s head coach and teacher, Gavin Wood, says he is inspired by his students, and hopeful about the future of innovation in our country. Wood is the STEAM Director at The Barstow School, which has developed an innovative K-12 program.
“I tell my students that they don’t have to wait until they are ‘grown ups’ to change the world,” he said. “Why wait? Let’s develop 21st-century high-tech skills, and use them to change the world right now.”
The team hopes to gain national media attention for the event, as a way to create a ripple-effect so more high school robotics teams will become aware of GoBabyGo and how they can help children in their own communities. As we head into the new year, it is a perfect time to give children with mobility issues a new beginning.
If you would like to help a child's face light up as they take their first ride of independence, then donate to help Variety KC at www.varietykc.org/donate/ you can sponsor a child's car for just $500.
If you have a child who has experienced a Go Baby Go car at therapy or have seen stories about Go Baby Go - and believe your child would benefit from a car - fill out a grant application at VarietyKC.org.
Deborah Wiebrecht – Executive Director, Variety KC
Dr. Kendra Gagnon
Gavin Wood – Barstow Robotics Team Head Coach & STEAM Director
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