Local students building robot that could change girl's life

Posted at 10:18 PM, Sep 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-08 11:40:41-04

This is a learning experience that goes way beyond the classroom.

We first introduced you to Baby Vivian last year, when the I-Team helped her get a life saving piece of medical equipment denied by insurance.  Doctors doubted this little girl from Menomonee Falls would live.  Vivian just turned two and is now trying to walk with help from some very creative high school students.

Steering, avoiding obstacle - all important components of a robot. A robot these Saint Francis High School students need to work perfectly.  These teens are using technology, and their desire to learn, to build a very special robot for a very special little girl.

Vivian Johnson is two and on the go in spite of doctors' predictions of a life confined to a bed.  Mom Sarah told us, "she just started climbing. Like dangerous climbing."  She is also learning to walk.  An amazing milestone that comes with a big problem. "Her machines don't really move with her unless we're carrying 50 pounds of equipment and following her around everywhere."

Life saving machines Vivian is always attached to.  So Sarah started researching options. "They said there really aren't kids like Vivian who walk." The only solution Sarah could find was a wheelchair. Something Vivian doesn't need.  Then she ran across young minds, willing to help. 

The Johnson family first met the Saint Francis Robotics team a few weeks ago.  Together they started brainstorming ideas far beyond what the family hoped for.  "They're making an app so her monitors will get sent to our phone. It's just incredible," Sarah shared.

Doing incredible things is not new for this team of teenagers.  "It kind of started off as research of how do I do something in the classroom," lead mentor and science teacher Peter Graven said.  He was experimenting with 3D printers. That led to the creation of mechanical hands now used by more than a dozen kids across the world.  And the creation of "ONEIGHTY," the concept of helping others by turning can't into can.  "We want to push what we're doing as a robotics team, as a robotics program.  Here's a child in need.  How can we use what we know?"

And also learn along the way about robotics and life. "It's a challenge, but it's awesome," SFROBOTICS team member Georgia Hancock shared.  "When it comes together I'm going to be so excited to see it work."

An invention that will help a determined little girl be like every other two-year-old.  "This is one step closer to letting her be whatever she wants to be," Sarah told us.

The robot will first help Vivian navigate the surfaces in her home.  The ultimate goal is to get her walking longer distances.  The Johnson's can't wait to take it to the zoo.

There is no expense to the family.  The students network, fundraising and bringing in experts to advise on the project.  They are also getting guidance from MSOE student mentors.

To follow the progress of Vivian's robot and the team's other "ONEIGHTY" projects: