Galloway's research focuses on determining if mobility can drive children's socialization. He is known for his "babies driving robots" research. However, he recently switched gears and is exploring the use of off-the-shelf, ride-on toys. Galloway explains, “Using these cars in our project helps to normalize the therapeutic experience for children with limited mobility."
Galloway points out that the low-tech isn’t replacing the high-tech but complementing it. While these ride-on toys are the real deal that you could go out and buy at your local Toys "R" Us, each car is adapted to meet the needs of the child who is riding it. Added features, or simple modifications, include roll bars made out of PVC pipe, sling seats made from soft fabric, harnesses fashioned from mesh and plastic, and a specialized console over the steering wheel. Future ideas for improvement include the use of GPS and webcam technologies.
The untold secret is that the low-tech aspects of this might not stay very low-tech very long. We are still going to work on the high-tech, but in parallel we are also going to work on lower-tech solutions.One of the larger goals for this project is to take what the research team is learning and create a toolkit for others who want to adapt the cars for kids with special needs. Galloway emphasizes the importance of doing this right. “We make sure to stay within the manufacturers’ intent, which is to use these cars as toys,” he says. “We don’t alter their use, and we don’t alter the safety factors built into the cars.”
“Fun is the key here—it unlocks brain development,” Galloway says. “When your main goal is providing socialization for infants and toddlers, you can’t ask for better collaborators than Barbie and Mater.”