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Barbie Car Outreach Project

The MARS/WARS FRC Team recently completed an outreach project, altering a Barbie Jeep so that it would be possible to be driven by a girl with disabilities. Below is an excerpt from a  letter composed by a mentor describing the project, as well as an attached PDF with instructions on how you could make a similar Jeep for a child in your area.

Click Here for instructions on the >>>Joystick Conversion Project<<<

“In December, 2012 one of our mentors was talking to a co-worker, Betty, who mentioned that she wanted to buy her 3 year old granddaughter Harper a Power Wheels car but that Harper had a childhood condition that left her without the strength to turn the steering wheel or work the gas pedal. That mentor talked to another, who also knew Betty, and we decided that the team would try to adapt a car to joystick control. Betty bought a used Barbie Cruisin’ Tunes Jeep for $50 and it was brought to the school in January. At first, we didn’t think we could do the project at the same time as the 6 week robot build, due to the demands on team members that is a normal part of the robot build process, but our team leader asked us to reconsider, and on January 18 we decided to try.

The concept was to make the modifications as simple and cost effective as possible so that it would be reliable and not take a lot of funds. Some research on the internet gave us some ideas for steering, but they all used a controller, which required a separate power source and programming in order to work. There was a lot of trial and error, but we determined we could do almost the same thing using switches and relays, and avoid the cost and complexity of a controller. We had to constantly engage in coopertition for resources, as the robot build was still first priority, but the project captured the imagination of the team and soon everyone wanted to take a turn working on “Team Barbie”. We even recruited some art students to paint ponies and flowers on the car, as those were some of Harper’s favorite things, and they also painted a personalized Illinois license plate on it. We worked on the car in the evenings, and then took it back to the art classroom at night so the students could paint during the next day. As the car started to take shape, we realized that if it was successful and we documented the process of converting it, we could share that with the other teams, and we could potentially have 2,000+ cars converted for children with disabilities.

The project took on a new sense of urgency when we committed to having the car done in time for our Open House on February 9, giving us just 3 weeks to complete it. After some long anxious nights, it was pronounced complete the night before the open house. We had the car project as a stop on the tour route, and had invited Betty and Harper to the open house, but were not completely sure if they were coming. About the middle of the open house, they showed up, along with Harper’s mom, and Harper saw the car for the first time. Since we had not met Harper yet, we estimated the joystick placement, and when she tried it out for the first time, the joystick had to be moved. We told the family we would move the joystick and deliver the car the following week, but then decided to move the joystick during the tours so they could take it home that day. After moving the joystick twice, it finally was in a good position for Harper to try it out. We took it to a large hall in the school, where she quickly learned to drive, with her mom using the remote start/stop when she got off course. Seeing her smiling and hearing the laughter, and seeing the expressions on her mom and grandma’s faces made all the late nights and stress more than worth it.

The cost of the car was $50, and the conversion can be done for about $100 to $160. We are going to put the build instructions and parts list on the Chief Delphi portal <http://www.chiefdelphi.com/forums/portal.php> and also send them to childhood illness organizations in the hope that this project will be replicated many times so that more kids with disabilities can drive around like the “normal” kids do.”