Newswise — Professors in the School of Engineering and the Department of Clinical and Applied Movement Sciences at the University of North Florida were awarded a grant for more than $85,000 by the National Institutes of Health to continue the development of a unique team-based course to develop adaptive battery-powered toy cars for children with developmental disabilities. Drs. Juan Aceros, UNF assistant professor of engineering, and Mary Lundy, UNF assistant professor of physical therapy, will receive funding of $85,326 over the next five years for their successful GoBabyGo adaptive toy initiative.

The objective of the program is to provide training through a multi-disciplinary design course, where engineering students and physical therapy students work together to design, fabricate and test adaptive technology, targeting postural control, mobility, social participation and quality of life for children with developmental disabilities.

The course is a mixture of electrical engineering undergraduates, mechanical engineering undergraduates, as well as both graduate and doctorate physical therapy students. Together, along with feedback from Aceros and Lundy, these students form cross-disciplinary teams and pool their knowledge to create accessible toys for individual children.

“The idea for the project came from some of our physical therapy graduate students working in the field who recognized that young children with disabilities needed more opportunities for play during the critical years of cognitive development, as well as greater access to adaptive toys, which are expensive and often hard to find,” said Lundy.

According to Aceros, there is a huge demand for the toys, which are loaned to children in Northeast Florida as long as they need them or until they outgrow them. The students work with therapists from local health care organizations, such as Brooks Rehabilitation, Wolfson’s Children’s Hospital and Duval County Public Schools to get the toys to children who can benefit from them.

As part of this program, students will also gain an increased appreciation of the diverse roles and contributions from different disciplines. “It’s a win-win for everyone involved,” said Aceros. “While the children get a toy that will benefit them, the hands-on learning experience is valuable to both the engineering and physical therapy students.”

The goal is to continue to expand the program to reach even more children in the community. Expansion plans could mean including students from other disciplines or even creating a fellowship position to manage the lending library of toys and conduct research.

This hands-on project is growing in popularity and also serves as a model for other universities. “As far as we know this is the only such program in the United States,” said Aceros. “There are many universities with nationally ranked engineering programs that are now trying to copy what we are doing here at UNF.”

UNF, a nationally ranked university located on an environmentally beautiful campus, offers students who are dedicated to enriching the lives of others the opportunity to build their own futures through a well-rounded education.

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