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ASU engineering graduates create toy hack website

Isabella Bushroe and Bridget Koehl put engineering skills to work to help children with disabilities


July 11, 2022

Have you ever heard of toy hacking?

For some, it’s a way to make old toys new again by changing how they function. For others, it’s simply a lesson in robotics. And still for others, a hacked toy provides the freedom to play without obstacles

For Isabella Bushroe and Bridget Koehl, two recent Arizona State University engineering graduates, toy hacking was a way to use their skills and give back to the community. Recently, the duo used their experiences with toy hacking as the basis for a website to guide others in how to host toy hack events.

Bushroe and Koehl, both engineering (mechanical engineering systems) majors, graduated with bachelor’s degrees in May.

They attended their first toy hack event, hosted by Makers Making Change at the Arizona Science Center, in 2019 and used their engineering know-how to modify toys for children with physical and other challenges. Inspired by that experience, Bushroe and Koehl created and hosted two toy hack events during their undergraduate careers, and made toy hacking the subject of their honors thesis for Barrett, The Honors College at ASU.

“Our positive experience at this event inspired us to do a project that would allow us to hold toy hacks to switch-adapt commercially available toys,” Bushroe said.

“We felt that we were practicing skills that we would need later as engineers, such as soldering and problem-solving. We found it worthwhile and fulfilling also because we learned about the positive impact that we could make using engineering skills."

Bushroe and Koehl hosted a toy hack in April 2021, and another in November of that year, both at the Si Se Puede Foundation STEM center in Chandler, Arizona.

Members of two Si Se Puede Foundation-supported robotics teams — Degrees of Freedom, a student-led high school robotics team, and Desert WAVE, a women's autonomous underwater vehicle design team at ASU (of which both Bushroe and Koehl were members as ASU students) — helped organize the events and assisted with hacking toys. The modified toys were donated to ACCEL, a local nonprofit organization, and the United Cerebral Palsy Foundation.

“For our honors thesis, we held two switch-adaptation toy hack events. Participants at these events added larger switches to commercially available electronic toys to make them easier for children with certain disabilities to use. The students and other members of the community who participated in these events got to learn about assistive technology and practice soldering and teamwork,” Bushroe said.

Bushroe, who is now working as an engineer in Tucson, Arizona, said she hopes anyone wanting to host a toy hack — whether for a class, a club or a community service project — finds useful information, including why toy hacking is important, how to set up such an event, where to get toys and equipment, directions for how to hack toys and other tips, on the website.


Isabella Bushroe graduated from ASU in May with a bachelor's degree in engineering. Photo courtesy Isabella Bushroe

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Si Se Puede and our various endeavors have been mentioned in a variety of publications, including:

External Media

  1. Young Robotics Engineers Work to Give ‘Red Bull’ — And Themselves — Championship Wings – Arizona Republic | AZCentral.com, April 20, 2022

  2. Chandler Robotic Team Preps for National Competition – FOX 10 Phoenix, April 16, 2022

  3. Prize-Winning Robotics Team Aims High – SanTan Sun News, April 4, 2022

  4. ASU Students Reimagine, Modify Toys for Kids with Disabilities – KJZZ (91.5), December 24, 2019

  5. AZFamily TV Clip of DW Members Presenting Adapted Toys – AZFamily | 3TV CBS 5, December 19, 2019

  6. Desert Wave Team Wins 3rd Place at RoboSub 2019 with Subsonus – Advanced Navigation, December 9, 2019

  7. Fighting Stereotypes ASU Robotics Team Shows Women Can Excel in STEM Fields – College Times, December, 2019

  8. No. 1: ASU Receives Recognition for Innovation – College Times, December 4, 2019

  9. Toy Hack Event in Phoenix Helps Children with Disabilities – Makers Making Change, December 2019

  10. Collegiate Engineering Team, Desert WAVE, Sets New Standard in Underwater Navigation Challenge with Precision KVH Sensors – KVH, November 2019

  11. Focus On Chandler: AZFirst Program – City Government of Chandler, Arizona, October 17, 2019

  12. Cronkite Sports Now, October 16, 2019 – Cronkite News, October 16, 2019

  13. All-Women Robotics Team Makes Big Splash at the International RoboSub Competition in San Diego – WIA Report, September 16, 2019

  14. ASU Women’s Autonomous Underwater Robotics Team Wins Big at International Competition – Chamber Business News, September 9, 2019

  15. Recap: RoboSub 2019 – Blue Robotics, September 9, 2019

  16. ASU's All Female Robotics Team Is #1 in the Country – AZFamily | 3TV CBS 5, September 6, 2019

  17. Rookie Robotics Team Excels in Tourney – SanTan Sun News, September 5, 2019

  18. All-Female Robotics Team Wins Major Awards While Slashing Stereotypes of Women, Latinos in STEM – ABC News, September 5, 2019

  19. All-Female Robotics Team Wins Major Awards While Slashing Stereotypes of Women, Latinos in STEM – Good Morning America, September 5, 2019

  20. Arizona Women Place 1st in Country, 3rd in World at Robotics Competition – ABC 15 Arizona, September 2, 2019

  21. Congratulations Desert WAVE Robotics Team! – Justice for All – Maricopa County Attorney’s Office September 2019 Newsletter, September 2019

  22. All-Female ASU Team Places 3rd in International Robotics Competition – ASEE First Bell, August 13, 2019

  23. Team of All-Female ASU Students Took 3rd in a World Robotics Competition – FOX 10 Phoenix, August 9, 2019

  24. Mentor with RoboNation | ft. Dr. Dan Frank, Arizona State University – RoboNation, May 15, 2019

  25. All-Female Mesa Robotics Team Pumped for Contest – East Valley Tribune, May 3, 2019

  26. RoboNation: Mentoring Helps Pay It Forward – XPONENTIAL Show Daily, May 2, 2019

  27. Women’s Underwater Robotics Team Makes a Splash – Advancing Women Engineers, March 28, 2019

  28. Women's Underwater Robotics Team Makes a Splash – SanTan Sun News, March 13, 2019

  29. All-Girls Robotics Team from ASU Readies for Competition – Chamber Business News, February 22, 2019

  30. ASU Desert WAVE Gears up for RoboSub 2019 – Hispanic Engineer & Information Technology, February 21, 2019

  31. Video: Desert Wave Robotics Team Makes a Splash for Women in STEM – The State Press, February 21, 2019

  32. Dorks Estate: Desert Wave, ASU's First All-Female Underwater Robotics Team – The State Press, February 8, 2019

ASU Media

  1. ASU Engineering Graduates Create Toy Hack Website – ASU News, July 11, 2022

  2. Character First, Robotics Second – Full Circle, May 6, 2022

  3. Barrett Students Find Success and Support in Engineering With Desert Wave – Barrett Honors College, October 2, 2020

  4. Innovation in Action – Devils in the Details, October 2, 2020

  5. Innovation at ASU: Ranked #1 for the Sixth Year in a Row: Arizona State University – ASU News, September 13, 2020

  6. ASU Students Place 2nd in the World at Robotics Competition – ASU Now, September 11, 2020

  7. ASU Students Place Second in the World at Robotics Competition – Full Circle, September 4, 2020

  8. Robotics Submarine Team Desert Wave Places Second at International RoboSub Competition – Inner Circle, August 31, 2020

  9. ASU Robotics Team Desert WAVE Prepares for Second Competition – ASU Now, June 17, 2020

  10. ASU Robotics Team Desert WAVE Prepares for Second Competition – Full Circle, June 16, 2020

  11. #ASUgrad Class of 2020 Video Yearbook: Arizona State University (ASU) – Arizona State University, May 11, 2020

  12. Desert WAVE Team Builds Robots – and Community – ASU Thrive Magazine, March 2020: Vol. 23, No. 2

  13. New Economy Initiative – ASU Now, January 8, 2020

  14. Holiday Hackathon Makes Toys Accessible for Children with Disabilities – ASU Now, December 17, 2019

  15. ASU's Year in Review 2019 – ASU Now, December 12, 2019

  16. ASU Named No. 1 in Innovation for 5th Consecutive Year – ASU Now, September 8, 2019

  17. Barrett Honors College Students on Award Winning Desert Wave All-Female Underwater Robotics Team – Barrett Honors College, August 9, 2019

  18. ASU Students Make Waves in International Robotics Competition – Full Circle, August 7, 2019

  19. Si Se Puede: Making Waves – IMPACT Magazine, Spring 2019

  20. Women’s Underwater Robotics Team Makes Waves in the Desert – ASU Now, January 23, 2019

Albert L Esparza