2-year-old Cillian Jackson from Farmington, Minnesota can’t walk due to a genetic condition. Often carried by his parents or put in a stroller, he can’t go about like most kids. But thanks to a group of high school robotics team, the boy now has the freedom to move around as he pleases.
It all began when Cillian’s physical therapist mentioned to his parents, Krissy and Tyler, about a program called Go Baby Go, which “provides modified, ride-on cars to young children with disabilities“.
The couple looked into it but learned that there was no Go Baby Go chapter in their locality. They knew that the cost of a motorized wheelchair was expensive, and they figured that it most probably wouldn’t be covered by insurance because of Cillian’s young age. With all of these hindrances, they began to think of possible alternatives.
Tyler remembered that there was a robotics team at his old high school, Farmington High School. He came in touch with the group’s coach, Spencer Elvebak, and asked if they would be willing to take on the project of creating a mobility vehicle for Cillian.
Spencer said there was no hint of doubt from his students when they responded to his question:
“I brought it up to the kids at a meeting, ‘Is this something we want to step up and do?’”
The answer was a resounding “Yes!”. Clearly, the students were eager to help out Cillian, and so was Spencer.
“That’s the great part of my job, to work with these kind of kids,” he said.
The team went on and began working on the project. Seeking technical assistance from Go Baby Go along the way, the team modified the Power Wheels toy car provided by Tyler and Krissy. They rewired nearly all its electrical parts and installed a new seat bought from Amazon that features a five-point harness to keep Cillian from falling out.
“Everything that we’ve been doing for robotics competitions … was directly relatable to this challenge,” Spencer said. “The students did the programming, they did all the wiring, they did all the work.”
The car originally came with two joysticks, one meant for forward movement and the other for backward movement, but it just didn’t work for Cillian. Thus, the students themselves wrote their own code to create a single, multi-directional joystick that will be easier for the boy to maneuver. In addition, they printed a custom mount for the joystick to be within Cillian’s reach.
Drew Eisenzimmer, a member of the team, said, “Instead of completing a task, we’re helping change someone’s life.”
Thankful for the students’ hard work, Krissy told KARE11:
“These kids took time out of their busy schedules to do this for our son. We’re so grateful. This really helps him explore like he’s never been able to do before.”
After their finished work, the students presented Cillian with his new ride in December 2018. They even added another thoughtful customization by installing a license plate on the car bearing his name.
The boy immediately took to his ride, and the look on his face was just pure joy!
Due to work commitments, Krissy wasn’t able to attend Cillian’s therapy appointments. So it was an extremely emotional moment for her when she saw her son going around on his own for the first time.
She told the SunThisWeek:
“When he’s been trialing his electric wheelchair, I haven’t seen anything like that. So to see him finally going for the first time and being independent, that was incredible. And to see all the kids around him, cheering him on, and being so happy with what they did—it was amazing,”
The Farmington High School Robotics Team is known for winning awards over the years, but this Cillian project was an entirely different accomplishment for them.
“I think we won here more than we do in our competitions,” said team member Nicole Cash.
Aside from freedom to move, having the car allowed Cillian to explore and learn about things in his surroundings – things that he never got to do before.
“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.”
“It really helped his discovery and curiosity. … Having the car has really given him the agency to make choices on his own,” Krissy added.
Kudos to the Farmington High School Robotics Team! They jumped on this chance to help a little boy without hesitation, and the end product turned out to be a thoughtfully-made, perfectly suitable car for Cillian. Indeed, it is for things like this that talent and intelligence should be used for.