High School Robotics Team Built a Power Wheelchair for a Toddler. For Free.

High schoolers often get a bad rap, but stories like this one remind us that youth have a great capacity for compassion and innovation.

Two-year-old Cillian Jackson has a genetic condition that prevents him from walking, so to get around on his own, he needs a motorized wheelchair. However, he doesn’t yet qualify for one through his family’s insurance.

According to CNN, Cillian’s physical therapist told his parents about a program called Go Baby Go, which provides toy cars that have been altered to help children with disabilities that limit their mobility. However, there was no Go Baby Go chapter near the Jacksons’ hometown of Farmington, Minnesota. And power wheelchairs are expensive to buy out of pocket—in the thousands of dollars—putting it out of reach for Cillian’s family.

High School Robotics Team

One resource the Jacksons had was the robotics team at the local high school. They approached the school and asked if the robotics students would be willing and able take on modifying a toy car for Cillian to use as a wheelchair.

The students jumped all over it.

Using plans from Go Baby Go, the high schoolers hacked a Power Wheels car provided by Cillian’s parents. They replaced the two joysticks with one multi directional one, rewired the car, and wrote their own code to make it work. They used a laser printer to create a custom mount for the joystick so that Cillian could reach it.

The students also replaced the seat of the car with a smaller one that included a five-point harness to keep Cillian as safe as possible.

Farmington High School robotics coach Spencer Elvebak told CNN that the students really took ownership of the project. “Everything that we’ve been doing for robotics competitions…was directly relatable to this challenge,” Elvebak said. “The students did the programming, they did all the wiring, they did all the work.”

Freshman robotics student Alex Treakle, who helped with the main wiring of the car, said he decided to participate in the project because he wanted to help someone. “It felt really good in the end,” he told CNN. When Cillian gave the chair a spin for the first time, Treakle said, “The joy on his face really made my entire year.”

Cillian has been using the chair since December, and recently visited the robotics students at the school.

The Jacksons say that the chair has given Cillian freedom of movement he’s never experienced before, as they have always had to carry him or push him in a stroller. “When he gets in his car, he will consciously stop and look at a doorknob or a light switch or all of these things he’s never had time to explore,” Cillian’s dad, Tyler Jackson, told CNN.

Cillian’s mom, Krissy Jackson, agreed. “It really helped his discovery and curiosity…Having the car has really given him the agency to make choices on his own.”

Kudos to these innovative high school students for putting their knowledge and skills to good use in their community, and for making a meaningful difference in a young child’s life.


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About Annie Reneau

Annie Reneau is a writer, wife, and mother of three with a penchant for coffee, wanderlust, and practical idealism. On good days, she enjoys the beautiful struggle of maintaining a well-balanced life. On bad days, she binges on chocolate and dreams of traveling the world alone. Her writing can be found on Upworthy and Scary Mommy, in O Magazine, and in a big ol’ slush pile inside her head. You can also find her on Facebook and Instagram.

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