When Ben’s mother found out she was pregnant, his family was ecstatic. With Ben still in utero, his motorcycle aficionado uncle went out and bought him his own Indian Motorcycle, to be maintained and then presented to him when he was old enough to drive. Then Ben was born with a condition called lissencephaly, or “smooth brain,” where folds are not present on the brain. Children born with smooth brain have physical and cognitive disabilities and their life expectancy is short. Most children with smooth brain die before they’re 10 years old.
Ben turned 10 on June 4, 2019. He’s grown into a sweet boy with a bright smile and sing-song voice. He’s excitable, curious, and has a love for motorcycles and cars that is a sight to see. Since his birth, his family has expanded beyond his parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, to his caregiver, Amanda, and her friends and family. He exudes love, and he is surrounded by it.
When Magic Wheelchair introduced SOLIDWORKS to Ben back in 2018, the build team had two goals: 1) create a motorcycle just for Ben, so he could ride with his uncle, and 2) give him and his family an experience to remember. Even with all their work responsibilities, the build team was determined to deliver.
And on a beautiful, sunny Saturday, surrounded by his family and loved ones, Ben got to ride his motorbike. Working together with the Springfield Museums in Springfield, MA, the SOLIDWORKS build team presented Ben with his very own motorcycle. The reveal was relaxed, cozy, a second birthday party for a special boy. Team Leader Chinloo welcomed Ben’s family and friends from the steps of the Springfield Science Museum. After counting down from five, she and Sal swept the black cloth covering the bike.
The team spent 8 intense weeks in the 3DEXPERIENCE lab building the costume, an enormous bike with a mix of Akira, Tron, and Indian Motorcycles design elements. Ben’s wheelchair fits into the middle of the costume, so he feels like he’s seated on his own motorbike. The finished bike is 10 feet long and a little over 3 feet wide, with lights running along the sides and wheels, and an interactive dashboard with a working “speedometer” and buttons to change the light colors. Ben’s bike has a horn and plays futuristic start up and revving noises when the throttle is turned. All of the electronic elements the team worked hard to incorporate were completed, and other museum goers stopped to gawk at the magnificent motorbike.
Amanda and Chinloo helped Ben into the bike and he ran his hands over the dashboard. “Whoa,” he exclaimed, with a chorus of whoa’s echoing from the crowd. Both Ben’s family and the build team were prepared for Ben to be overwhelmed by the attention and the bike itself, and after a few minutes in the costume Ben had to take a break. But he was happy to walk around the museum quadrangle with his favorite uncle, and it gave the family time to marvel over the bike and enjoy birthday cupcakes.
“I’m never speechless and I am speechless,” said Ben’s mom, Kristen. Ben’s parents, his aunt and uncle, and his two sets of grandparents, along with Amanda and other close friends, played with Ben and looked over the costume. The build team was able to answer questions, both from the family and other people at the museum. It was an intimate event, and both the family and the build team members appreciated the time to really engage with each other and come together for one purpose: Ben.
Soon the group moved to the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History, where the costume could be photographed among the museums’ collection of Indian Motorcycles. Downstairs there was an exhibit on the history of toys, and Ben and his family flitted between the two displays. It was exciting to see the futuristic bike among the many different iterations of Indian Motorcycles.
Watching her son examine and play with his own motorcycle, Kristen said, “You made a little boy’s dream come true.” Come Halloween, the family knows Ben will be the talk of the town, and Amanda expects to have some seriously toned biceps, pushing Ben around in his motorcycle.
“You’ll see,” Ben’s grandmother remarked, “once we have that [costume] home, he’ll never get enough of it. It’s going to be his favorite thing.” Since taking the costume home, Ben has taken to pushing the bike around himself, and his family has had an easy time setting it up for him to play with.
It was a great day, with a completely different atmosphere from last year’s Magic Wheelchair reveal. Standing among the family, both in the quiet outdoors of the quadrangle and inside the peaceful motorcycle exhibit, the prevailing feeling was one of love. That’s the feeling Ben inspires, and the building and presentation of his bike is an experience neither he nor his family will ever forget.
A museum guide watching the reveal summed it all up perfectly. Gazing at Ben and his loved ones crowded around his very own bike, she told me she was going to cry. “There are people in the world that are willing to do things like this. There’s hope,” she said, nodding at the group and wiping her eye. “There’s hope.”
Ben’s motorcycle costume reveal would not have been possible without the hard work of dozens of people. The build team, as always, went above and beyond: Chinloo Lama (team leader, detailing artist, vinyl decal whisperer), Sal Lama (foam and frame fabricator), Annie Cheung (team foreman), Albert Hernandez (body designer and magnet magician), Nicolas Lefebvre (electronics hacking and professional cable labeler), Gabe Enright (lighting effects design and fabrication), David Law (hands-on, master of none), Stephen Endersby (dashboard designer and plastic pipe connector), Julian Galgoczy (body prep/sander), Kevin Berni (audio and special effects), Heather Snider (team seamstress, a snarky sew and sew who kept everyone in stitches), and Madhuvamsi Karicharla (3DEXPERIENCE Lab intern, kept an eye on all the 3D prints).
There are also the people who set up and documented the reveal: Chloe Trepanier (reveal organizer), Robert Gilliam (photography and video), Sara Zuckerman (project documentarian), and Larissa Murray and everyone at the Springfield Museums. Larissa and her lovely staff made the reveal the special event it was.
There are the people behind the scenes: Marie Planchard (SOLIDWORKS Director of Education and Early Engagement), Abhishek Bali (costume concept designer and financial comptroller from 3DEXPERIENCE Lab), and Sara Junghans (Senior Manager, SOLIDWORKS Education and Early Engagement). The crew at Magic Wheelchair, including David Vogel and Christine Getman, along with streamer David LaBerge, who raises money for various non-profits, including Magic Wheelchair, on his Twitch channel and was there in person at the reveal. And a special thanks to CIC Boston, who let Gabe utilize their laser cutter to create wheel inserts.
Finally, this entire project would not have been possible without Ben, his incredible family, and his wonderful caretaker Amanda, who signed him up for Magic Wheelchair. It was an honor and pleasure to put together a special event for such a wonderful kiddo.
This Magic Wheelchair project is part of the 3DEXPERIENCE Lab. The lab is the global startup accelerator and open innovation program of Dassault Systemes and is committed to empowering startups and makers with ideas that can potentially shift scales of innovation in their particular domain. In case of Magic Wheelchair, the project scored super high on its ability to leverage collective intelligence and 3DEXPERIENCE Platform solutions to create huge impact on society.
The 3DEXPERIENCE Lab is made of up passionate makers, and any team of volunteers who want to work on building an epic Magic Wheelchair costume will be provided with free access to the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform. The platform has a full range of 3D modeling, collaborative, information intelligence and simulation apps, including industry leaders CATIA, SOLIDWORKS, xDesign, SIMULIA, and 3DSWYM. We invite anyone interested to join our community.
You can still get involved with Magic Wheelchair, by starting up your own build team or by donating in Ben’s name on his Classy.org page. Keep an eye out for more stories and interviews with the build team. If Ben’s passion for bikes has taught us anything, it’s that motorcycle madness never stops!