The Magic Rider: A Mobility Platform for Children with Disabilities
Many children with disabilities are unable to develop depth perception and body control by crawling or walking. These children can be aided through therapy on a mobility platform, a small battery-powered vehicle. The University of Tulsa has developed a mobility platform called the Magic Rider. The Magic Rider helps children increase their sense of self-worth, independence, and spatial awareness at The Little Light House, a school for children who are disabled ages 2-6. This paper describes a project to improve the aesthetics and functionality of the first generation Magic Rider. The largest challenge was to design and create a sturdier, more aesthetically pleasing body amendable to production in larger volumes. The new body was created using a ribbed cross section technique. This novel production technique proved successful and the modified Magic Rider has been returned to The Little Light House, where observations from staff indicate it is meeting its therapeutic and recreational goals.
Mobility platforms provide children with a wide variety of disabilities a means of powering their own movement. Mobility platforms encourage users to associate their own actions with the movements of their bodies, increasing the speed of both their cognitive and psychosocial development (Home, 2003). Mobility platforms can also aid in sensory integration. Sensory integration is the processing and organization of sensory information in the brain to produce adaptable response behavior (Merrilee, 2009). Children with disabilities often have difficulties with sensory integration, leading to difficulties with emotional regulation, fine and gross motor skills, and socialization (Bodison, 2008). Dr. A. Jean Ayres was the first to identify sensory integration and developed a technique known as “Ayres sensory integration.” Ayres sensory integration is a therapeutic technique used to overcome sensory integration difficulties in children with disabilities (Bodison, 2008). The idea behind Ayres sensory integration is to increase organization by administering controlled stimuli that have adaptive responses. Mobility platform therapy is a form of Ayres sensory integration and aids in developing visual-spatial perception by helping children understand directional concepts (Uyanik, 2010). The rotational movement and linear acceleration-deceleration of mobility platforms lead to stimulation of a child’s vestibular receptors. This stimulation can lead to an increase in perception-motor skills, help develop hearing-language skills, and increase socio-emotional development (Uyanik, 2010).
The Magic Rider is the latest prototype mobility platform produced at The University of Tulsa. Custom designed and built mobility platforms offer several advantages over mass-produced electric-powered toy cars (such as Power Wheels™). Mobility platforms are designed for children with both physical and mental disabilities. One advantage of a custom-designed mobility platform is the platform can be created to accommodate the height and weight of a specific group of children. The Magic Rider is designed for children ages 2-6 as tall as 4 feet and weighing up to 60 pounds. The platform includes a positioning seat specifically designed for children with special needs. The seat has adjustment straps to accommodate a variety of disabilities. The platform features several types of customized inputs for specific users controlling the platform. The Magic Rider can be controlled with either a joystick or a GO button. Children with advanced dexterity utilize the joystick to control starting/stopping and direction. Children with less advanced dexterity simply start and stop their motion with the GO button. When depressed, the button signals the platform to move and therapists control the direction of motion wirelessly. The controls system includes wireless remote override allowing therapists to take control in the event that the children cannot control the direction of their motion safely.
The first generation Magic Rider prototype is a mobility platform for children ages 2-6 with a wide range of physical and developmental disabilities, including Down syndrome, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, autism, and sensory deprivation such as blindness. The body of the first generation Magic Rider was created using 3/8” plywood (Figure 1). A major goal of the second-generation prototype was to create a sturdier, more aesthetically pleasing body and one with the potential for cost savings if produced in larger volumes. Various methods were considered as production techniques, including wet layup with fiberglass, vacuum forming, and injection molding. These and other techniques were not chosen due to the time and cost requirements. Finally, a novel design and production technique, described below, using a ribbed cross-section method was selected because of its potential to be as the most efficient and functional method of production.
The purpose of this project was to:
- Design and fabricate a more functional, aesthetically pleasing, and cost effective mobility platform body for the Magic Rider.
- Assess and analyze the effectiveness of the mobility platform with the children at The Little Light House.
Materials used for production include:
- 1’’ Foam PVC sheet [48”X 96”]
- Computerized Drilling Router
- PVC Cement
- Body filler (Bondo™)
A novel design and production technique was used to create the second-generation Magic Rider body. The body was first designed to accommodate the size and space limitations of the first-generation Magic Rider using SolidWorks. The resulting model was then digitally sliced into 49 separate cross sections (Figure 2). A computerized drilling router was used to cut out the one-inch cross sections from rigid foamed PVC (Figure 3). The cross sections were then arranged and bonded to one another using PVC adhesive (Figure 4). To smooth the resulting uneven surface and create a streamlined curve, Bondo™ was applied (Figure 5). The resulting surface was then sanded smooth. A base was created to raise the height of the body. All of the components were then painted and attached to create the final body (Figures 6 and 7).
The novel technique developed for this work allowed for the creation of a sturdier and more aesthetically pleasing mobility platform body with the potential for cost savings were the body to be produced in larger volumes. The children at The Little Light House enjoy operating The Magic Rider and show signs of an increase in spatial awareness after only a few sessions operating the platform. Children who previously did not display any facial awareness of their surroundings made eye contact with therapists and showed visible interest in what was going on around them while operating the Magic Rider. The faces of the children often displayed amazement. They appeared to view the world from a new perspective while moving independently. The kids quickly realized they could control their movement and held the GO button for longer periods of time as they gained experience with the system. The children also began to realize they could stop their motion simply by releasing the button. With experience, they became more proficient at avoiding obstacles.
Little Light House occupational therapist Anne McCoy comments:
We love the Magic Rider and the opportunities it brings to The Little Light House students! It gives our kids an independence and freedom of movement that they have never experienced but need. Studies show that independent movement stimulates perceptual and language development; the Magic Rider provides this for our children. The Magic Rider also provides our students with a sense of success and delight as they realize they can actually navigate through their environment without help. And maybe best of all, it is just plain fun!
The body production method utilized for this project can be applied to building a variety of engineering prototypes. This method allows for more complex shape design, reducing limitations on the creativity of engineers when building prototypes to solve problems.
The Magic Rider has applications in places other than schools. The mobility platform could be used in hospitals as a therapeutic and recreational tool for children recovering from illness. Future generations of the Magic Rider could produce music or another type of sensory stimuli that accompany certain actions to increase the speed of learning and development.
- The novel technique developed and utilized to create the Magic Rider body allows for the accurate production of a mobility platform body for children with disabilities. The resulting body is both sturdier and more aesthetically pleasing than the previous body.
- Observation of the children as they operate the platform provides anecdotal evidence of increased spatial awareness. This leads to an increase in both cognitive and psychosocial development, improving many different aspects of the lives of the children.
Funding for this research came from the Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC) program and from the MADE at TU (Make A Difference Engineering) fund. I thank Dan Moran for his technical support and for the use of FABLAB Tulsa equipment. The students who designed and built the first generation Magic Rider are gratefully acknowledged. Finally, I am indebted to The Little Light House for the continued partnership and feedback.
Bodison, S., Watling, R., Kuhaneck, H. M., & Henry, D. (2008). Frequently Asked Questions About Ayres Sensory Integration. Retrieved from http://www.aota.org/~/media/Corporate/Files/Practice/Children/Resources/FAQs/FAQAyres.ashx
Home, A. M., Ham R., & Nilsson L. (2003). Provision of Powered Mobility Equipment to Young Children: The Whizz-Kidz Experience.” International Journal of Therapy and Rehabilitation, 10(11), 5. http://0web.ebscohost.com.library.utulsa.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=06af610a-445f-4b4e-84c7e04d229bc4ed%40sessionmgr114&vid=4&hid=108
Merrilee, A. (2009) Definition of Sensory Integration. Retrieved from http://www.disabled-world.com/definitions/sensory-integration.php
Uyanik, M., Kayihan, H. (2010). Down Syndrome: Sensory Integration, Vestibular Stimulation and Neurodevelopmental Therapy Approaches for Children. International Encyclopedia of Rehabilitation. Retrieved from http://cirrie.buffalo.edu/encyclopedia/en/article/48/