A 4-year-old girl with limited mobility has a new set of motorized wheels, thanks to a high school inventor.
Miley Brochu was all smiles and pure awe recently when she got to take her powered mobility scooter for a spin around a classroom.
Rising senior Willem Hillier of Champlain Valley Union High in Hinesburg, Vermont, was the lead engineer on the science project, which called for fashioning the scooter out of a Power Wheels toy.
"Working on this project, it's for this girl here," Hillier told the Burlington Free Press. "She can't really walk, and so this is going to be her first opportunity to be able to move herself."
Hillier spent three months revamping the Power Wheels, utilizing a 3D printer, adding a better battery and rewriting the code for the joystick that helps Miley direct her mini-vehicle.
Therapists at the University of Vermont's Center for Disability and Inclusion I-Team assisted Hillier and the Champlain Valley Union team before connecting with Miley and suggesting her as a possible recipient. Miley is a survivor of Shaken Baby Syndrome, and was adopted by Phil and Lynn Brochu. She is unable to walk on her own.
I-Team physical therapist Tamra Yandow and occupational therapist Deb Sharpe said the newfound, independent mobility will be a game-changer for the young girl.
They also said it will give her a chance to practice getting around on her own as she awaits the arrival of her powered wheelchair.
"Kids who are unable to walk, if you give them the ability to independently move, then their other motor skills increase. Their social skills increase. Their play skills can increase," Yandow said. "It's good for their verbal and language skills. It just encompasses everything, if you give them that independence."
Olaf Verdonk, the team's robotics and engineering teacher, said other teams had now embarked on projects to help students with disabilities at the school.
"The big piece that this project tied in was empathy, and that's a big piece of the design thinking that doesn't really happen in most cases. ... That's been a really wonderful piece. ... It's no longer their [the students'] ego saying, 'This is the best idea,'" Verdonk said. "They actually have to think about the empathy piece, which is awesome."