Sahas, three years ago, enjoys the mobility of a toy car

A Mountain View kindergartner with special needs is getting a new ride, thanks to the efforts of a group of Mount Olive High School students. Members of MOHS' robotics team and students in the school’s advanced robotics classes are constructing a motorized wheelchair for fellow student Sahas Sachdev. The 5 and ½ year old was born with cerebral palsy which affects his movement and sense of balance.
 
The high school students designed the motorized wheelchair themselves, taking into consideration Sahas’ needs, and fabricated it using mostly spare parts and batteries found in the school’s robotics lab. They also 3D-printed a few custom pieces, including a large joystick which controls the wheelchair’s operation. For the past two months, the young engineers have been testing and refining the chair. They expect to deliver it later this month.
 
Sahas, whose name in Hindi aptly means “courage,” has limited motor skills. His mother, Anamika Soni, hopes the chair will give her son something more than just mobility.
 
“I want him to experience a sense of independence,” she said. “What that little guy has confronted and conquered is pretty remarkable and empowering him with a bit of independence is a pretty amazing feeling. I am so thankful for the heart, time, and effort the school and students have put into this project.”
 
Most health insurance companies don’t cover electric wheelchairs for children, and the chairs themselves retail for anywhere from several thousand dollars to as much as $20,000.  After reading an article about college students modifying a kit car for a child, Soni began researching DIY wheelchair websites. She reached out to the school’s robotics teacher, Don Biery, inquiring about the possibility of fabricating a chair for Sahas.
 
“My students and I sat down and looked at one of the websites, and the wheelchair was made of PVC pipe that you can get at Home Depot,” Biery said. “I said ‘Oh no. We can do something better.’”
 
Biery visited Mountain View to take room measurements and meet with teachers and support staff members to learn about Sahas’ requirements. Armed with that information, the robotics students went to work immediately, led by students Max Polak, Lucas Raihna, Brandon Reyes, and Preet Patel. According to Biery, the high-schoolers were excited to be able to use their skills on a project so meaningful.
 
“They are tackling this with such professionalism and excitement,” he said. “They are totally into it. ‘What are you doing today?’ ‘Oh, I’m building a wheelchair for another student.’ That’s a win, too, not just helping someone who needs help. The joy in giving and seeing that what they are learning in school has relevance in the real world makes this project so special.”
 
Biery intends to post the wheelchair design online so that robotics teams everywhere can make a difference to people in their own communities.

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