A toddler’s sudden mobility can be frustrating for parents, but it’s an important step in a child’s mental development. Having the means to explore teaches problem-solving skills and helps little ones understand the world around them. Now, Engadget reports that two grad students have invented a device that brings this experience to kids with disabilities.
NYU Tandon School of Engineering students Tanaya Bhave and Gang Haiming came up with the Tot Bot after learning that toddlers with physical handicaps often develop lower IQs due to lack of stimulation [PDF]. One way to combat this is to give kids a way to move around.
Most motorized wheelchairs for adults are controlled with joysticks. For their chair, Bhave and Haiming swapped the complicated mechanic with one they knew toddlers could navigate.
According to a 2015 study, a third of babies can use smartphones before they learn to walk or talk. So a touchscreen seems like the perfect choice. After installing an app on their phone or tablet, parents attach their device to the front of the chair. The screen displays whatever’s directly in front of the phone’s camera, and children tap the object they’re interested in to roll towards it. When the chair senses it’s close enough, it stops and turns so the child can grab whatever caught their eye. And for parents concerned with safety, there’s also an option to limit the chair’s range to areas in the room tagged "safe."
Prospective buyers may have to wait a while to purchase a chair: The students' project is still in the development stages, and there’s no word on when, or if, it will be commercial-ready. For now, you can watch the video below to see the Tot Bot in action.