Dr. Juan Aceros, University of North Florida engineering associate professor, has been granted two new U.S. patents that have the potential to help thousands of children with disabilities attain a higher degree of freedom and comfort over traditional mobility devices, such as wheelchairs.
The patents are for a unique modular ride-on mobility device equipped with proportional control switches. The research was funded in part by the National Institute of Health and a UNF Foundation Board grant.
These inventions are over a decade in the making. Aceros, with the UNF engineering program, and Dr. Mary Lundy, associate professor emerita of physical therapy, began the Adaptive Toy Project in 2013. The project became a popular interdisciplinary class, where UNF physical therapy students would assess the needs of individual children and engineering students would create customized ride-on toy cars tailored to meet the specific therapy needs of each pediatric patient who participated in the program.
Each year, the program would culminate in a heart-warming giveaway event where the families of the pediatric patients would come together as the personalized mobility devices were unveiled. The tears of joy on the parents’ faces and the smiles, laughter and excitement of the children as they rode their vehicles for the first time were always unforgettable. The project made national news, including a Christmas Day feature on CNN in 2016.
Aceros is now collaborating with Dr. Guilherme Cesar, UNF physical therapy assistant professor, to further expand this successful initiative by looking at the biomechanical effects underpinning the use of ride-on mobility devices. They recently received a prestigious award from the Foundation for Physical Therapy Research to study the impact on balance control after intervention with novel stand-on ride-on power mobility devices for children with cerebral palsy.
Conventional ride-on devices are not designed for long-term use and are often perceived as toys rather than essential tools. As a result, these devices are typically small, cramped, non-adjustable and equipped with traditional control mechanisms that may be inoperable or extremely challenging to use and enjoy. Also, children and young adults typically outgrow conventional mobility devices every few years, or even months. This forces families to regularly upgrade to larger models when children no longer fit in their previous devices. The economic burden of constantly having to purchase new devices often causes children to go without the essential mobility devices they need.
Aceros’ hope is that one day parents can adjust the devices themselves at home to accommodate their children’s needs as they grow.
Next, Aceros will host a special seminar course for engineering students to begin creating prototype models for the modular ride-on devices. Once prototypes are finalized and tested, UNF will look to partner with a leading medical equipment provider to mass-produce the devices and help young people with disabilities all around the globe to move a little easier.