Toby, the remote-controlled Volkswagen bus, is taking Virginia Tech’s mission of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) to a whole new level, warming the hearts of students, staff, and community members wherever it goes. 

With the help of a Christiansburg hobby shop, sophomores Brendan Smith, an English and creative writing major, and Sophia Spraker, a biological sciences major, built Toby (@vt_bus) in January. They have since been driving Toby around campus. 

“We love that it makes people happy, and we think that's pretty neat,” Spraker said. “Sometimes the people you don’t expect to smile have the cutest reaction.” 

The inspiration behind Toby comes from Smith’s dream to own a red Volkswagen bus one day. 

“In sixth grade, I built a VW bus lego set and have been obsessed with the car ever since,” said Smith. “In late January of this year, Sophia and I were talking and she suggested getting a remote control [R/C] version of the bus. We started looking into it and found a hobby shop in Christiansburg that specializes in R/C cars. They offered to order one for us and provided any other parts that were not included.

"We got back to our dorm, planned to build it together, but Sophia pretty much built the whole thing,” he said. “Sophia then suggested setting up an Instagram account for it, and the rest is history.”

The most remarkable part of Toby and the Instagram account is how much joy it brings people.

“While our account wasn’t exactly created with Ut Prosim intentions behind it, we have over time naturally come to that by just trying to make people’s days,” said Smith. “It’s not so much geared toward service, but I suppose one way our account can be viewed is that we passively serve others by relieving some stress from their day or just giving them something to smile about. Some people need that.”

Smith and Spraker have built a considerable following on the Instagram account. The account has a definitive positive energy about it, which is similar to  a pet Instagram account, with pictures and videos highlighting Toby's adventures around Blacksburg

Spraker said, “Back in February we looked at other accounts and thought, ‘Maybe by the end of our senior year we will be at 1,000 followers,’” she said. “Somehow, in less than nine months we’ve already reached that goal.”

The account has had multiple collaborations with other Virginia Tech community accounts, such as Blacksburg Transit, VT Affirmations, Student Engineers Council, and the Squirrel Watching Club at Virginia Tech. As for long-term goals, they hope to one day be featured on Volkswagen’s social media. 

“With the account, we just hope to make people’s day,” Spraker said. “We want to give them another connection to the Virginia Tech community and even host some events like giveaways and scavenger hunts.

Written by Mary Desmond

A red remote-controlled Volkswagen bus with a small flag on top of it that says "VT Bus" sits on the Drillfield with Burruss Hall in the background.

A red remote-controlled Volkswagen bus with a small flag on top of it that says "VT Bus" sits on the Drillfield with Burruss Hall in the background.
Toby, a remote-controlled Volkswagen bus, sits on the Drillfield with Burruss in the background. Photo by Mary Desmond for Virginia Tech.
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