May 15, 2007 Disabled children can now get their first taste of self-directed mobility with the Wizzybug, an affordable and fun electric vehicle that looks like a toy car, is happy indoors or in the garden, and is designed to suit a wide range of mobility-impaired children. Different types of controllers, from joysticks to hand and head switches, allow the children to drive and steer the bugs - and from the looks on the youngsters' faces, it seems like they're a lot of fun too!

The Wizzybug has taken engineers at the Bath Institute of Medical Engineering in the School for Health at the University of Bath over three years to develop, and was launched recently at the Naidex exhibition for disability and homecare products .

The engineers have worked closely with children with disabilities, their parents and occupational therapists from the Royal United Hospital in Bath to make sure the Wizzybug meets their needs.

The mobility vehicle, developed in close partnership with the charity Whizz-Kidz, has a total range of eight km (almost five miles) on a single battery charge, travels at up to almost three km/hr (two mph) and weighs a total of 31.3kg (69 lb).

It features a fully adjustable seating system, with a unique ‘tilt in space’ feature for any child up to 20kg in weight, a programmable joystick control and memory foam cushions for comfort and support.

It is also small and light enough to fit into the boot of a car - so families can take the Wizzybug to the shops or on other outdoor adventures.

“The main thing about the Wizzybug is that it is fun to use,” said Professor Roger Orpwood, Director of the Bath Institute for Medical Engineering (BIME), part of the University’s School for Health.

“For children to get the most out of the Wizzybug, we had to make sure that it is something they would want to use. It goes fairly quickly, has a hook so they can fix a trailer to it, making it a really fun thing to use.

“It works both indoors and out, so gives them a real opportunity to explore and engage in the kinds of activities they want to.

“Each Wizzybug costs about £1,500 - £2,000 which just about covers our costs in making them. Trying to keep the price affordable has been important throughout the project.”

Evaluation trials of the Wizzybug began in February 2007 involving six children from Bath, Nottingham and Derby. The children have been able to use a Wizzybug as part of their daily routine over eight weeks.

Feedback was collected by the children’s occupation therapist, who could provide an independent assessment of the technology.

“The parents and children were keen to use the Wizzybug because it looks like a battery toy car,” said Anne Harris, a mobility therapist from Whizz-Kidz involved in the evaluation.

“It is small, not fast and has parent control. Seeing it as a toy car families have found it easy to use, as part of everyday life - going to the park, school, library, shops etc, yet unlike toy cars it includes discreet postural seating and specialist controls making it suitable for a wide range of children with disabilities.”

Professor Orpwood said: “We are delighted with the results of the evaluation so far, and are really pleased that we can now offer the Wizzybug to children around the country.

“It has been a real team effort getting to this stage, and I can’t thank everyone enough for the help and support they have given to make the Wizzybug a reality.”

View gallery - 7 images