WeeBot: Would You Want Your Baby Driving Before They Can Walk?

The WeeBot in Action

Babies are clumsy. They don’t yet have the motor skills or strength to control their bodies to get those legs walking. So letting an infant have control of a motorized scooter seems a bit questionable. Of course, in a society that is on a quest to age-up our kids from baby wigs to “My Baby Can Read,” it does seem like a natural progression. That’s where the WeeBot comes in.

This “makeshift” invention was created using a booster seat, a motorized wheeled base and a Nintendo Wii balance board. The balance board allows the babies to shift their weight and lead the vehicle around their space. “They learn that when you lean, you make things happen,” Carole Dennis said, who is a associate professor of occupational therapy at Ithaca College. “The learning seems to be almost intuitive.”

The team who created the WeeBot trained 5-to-8-month-old babies to use the vehicle with an 88 percent rate of success in the babies being able to guide their WeeBots to their destination (usually a toy that they had their eyes on). “Learning doesn’t seem to depend on age; it seems to depend on the ability to move freely in the environment,” Dennis said. “We call it driver training. They develop the expectation very early on that if they lean they’re going to get a toy.”

But the WeeBot does actually have some positive applications. The WeeBot team worked with two babies with developmental disabilities. While a 7-month-old boy with Down syndrome didn’t seem very interested in the quest, a 15-month-old baby boy with cerebral palsy was able to get to the toy 85 percent of the time. The team reported a positive effect for the 15-month-old which went beyong the WeeBot experience. “After the fifth training session, I got an email from his parents that said he’d just begun to drag himself on the floor using his elbows,” Dennis said. “He hadn’t done that before. We’d like to think the ability to explore his environment gave him the impetus to try to move.”

“Even babies that may some day walk may be missing critical opportunities in their early years,” Dennis said. “We’d like a little more research behind us, but we think the WeeBot has a lot of potential.”

What do you think of giving babies control of a motrorized scooter? Silly or sensible?

Photo Source: Carole Dennis via ABC News



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