A team of staff and students from Trinity College Dublin’s School of Engineering was awarded the 2014 Technological Innovation Award for designing a prototype robot to help a teenager born without limbs carry out everyday tasks. The award was received at the annual Engineers Ireland Excellence Awards.
The Trinity team created the domestic assistant robot (popularly known as ‘Robbie’) after they were inspired by a request from Cork teenager Joanne O’Riordan, who suffers from the rare condition of Total Amelia, for someone to build her just such a robot that would help her to lead a normal life.
The Excellence Awards, sponsored by the National Standards Authority of Ireland, showcase the very best Irish engineers and engineering projects, and aim to recognise excellence and achievements in various categories, as well as to highlight the benefits and influence of engineering in society. A panel of distinguished engineers decided which projects made the initial short-list before choosing the final award winners in each category.
‘Robbie’ was a prototype design and was conceived and built in only 5 months; he demonstrated a capability of performing basic tasks in domestic environments, while also having the flexibility to move over different surfaces and in the various environments in which someone like Joanne needs to be.
The work was initially financed by a generous donation of €50,000 from the International Telecommunications Union (a UN agency). The Secretary General of the ITU, Dr Hamadoun Touré met with the team in March, 2014, to see the results of the project. He was effusive in his praise, describing the project as “inspirational” and the team as “simply phenomenal.” The team has since continued working in the same area to develop more features and technologies; plans for Robbie 2.0 are well under way.
Assistant Professor in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at Trinity, Kevin Kelly, who led the team, said: “A project like this is hugely challenging, especially with the time and resource constraints we have had. However, the end goal of providing assistive care in the home to those increasing numbers of our population who require it is hugely motivating.”
He added: “What has been really special about this project is the quality and the enthusiasm of the student effort, most of which has been entirely voluntary. We, in Trinity, are justifiably proud of the quality of our students, and in turn I think we are well aware of our responsibility to these excellent young men and women to provide an educational, learning and developmental experience during their time in college. It has been – and continues to be – a privilege to work with such inspirational people, and the recognition of our peers in Engineers Ireland is welcome acknowledgement for all their hard work.”