Socially assistive robot, Stevie, among TIME’S 100 best inventions of 2019

Posted on: 22 November 2019

Stevie the socially assistive robot, developed by robotics experts from Trinity’s School of Engineering, features in iconic magazine TIME’s exclusive list of the 100 best inventions of 2019 [Friday 22nd November 2019]. The annual list, just-announced, celebrates 100 inventions that are making the world better, smarter and even a bit more fun.

To assemble the 2019 TIME Best Inventions list, TIME solicited nominations across a variety of categories from editors and correspondents around the world, as well as through an online application process.

Each contender was then evaluated on key factors, including originality, effectiveness, ambition and influence. The result: 100 ground-breaking inventions that are changing the way we live, work, play and think about what’s possible. You can see the full list at:

Over the last few years, Stevie has been designed and developed by a team led by Conor McGinn, Assistant Professor in Trinity’s School of Engineering. Speaking to the honour of making TIME’s best 100 inventions list, Dr McGinn said:

The team and I feel honoured to be included on this list and feature among such other great inventions. This is a validation of many years of hard work, and it’s something that many students and faculty can feel proud to have contributed to.

Stevie, a huge hit in Ireland since making its showcase debut in Trinity in 2017, also recently appeared on the front cover of TIME’s weekly magazine, having made a big impression in a retirement community in the US this summer.

The robot was re-introduced to its Irish fans earlier this year after benefiting from the addition of some significant technological upgrades and advanced AI capabilities.

Dr McGinn and his team consulted with a wide range of experts during Stevie’s development, including nurses and caregivers and elderly residents living in assisted care facilities. While developed to perform some functional tasks, Stevie is a social robot, which brings huge benefits to those it interacts with.

This summer the Trinity team partnered with the Army Distaff Foundation, a US-based non-profit organisation that operates Knollwood Retirement Community, where Stevie interacted with residents and staff at the facility.

UK trial

Now, back on this side of the Atlantic, Stevie is being put through its paces at the University of Plymouth’s Centre for Health Technology in the UK.

Stevie will be trialled at Reflections day centre in Camborne, where it will carry out a range of activities and tasks, as well as simply spending time with clients of the centre. It is hoped Stevie’s presence will boost wellbeing and social interaction, while freeing up human staff to work with individuals needing more attention. 

Researchers from two EU-funded projects in the Centre for Health Technology are involved with the Stevie trial. Professor Ray Jones leads the eHealth Productivity and Innovation in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (EPIC) project. EPIC researcher Lloyd Taylor has been working with the Stevie team to support the robot during its time in Cornwall and EPIC-funded Olly Smith’s new start-up company will help with the evaluation.

Thanks to EPIC and its close relationship with Kernow Health CIC, which represents all the county’s GP practices, with care homes across the county as well as NHS services, health and care professionals and service user groups, Cornwall is gaining a reputation as the go-to place to trial new health technology. Access to this ‘Testbed Cornwall’, a concept that is being actively promoted by Cornwall Trade & Investment, is one factor that made sending Stevie to the South West an easy decision, according to Dr Conor McGinn. 

Dr McGinn said:

The aim with Stevie was to create something that empowers people to use it, whether that is service users or residents. We want people to like Stevie, and so he is deliberately not intimidating and non-judgmental. People have a very subtle ability to pick up social cues, so he has to be really finely tuned. We haven’t had anyone who hates him yet, although some take longer than others to get used to him.

Some older people actually find it easier to open up and talk to a robot than a person. Running a game of bingo might seem frivolous, but if he can increase happiness and reduce loneliness, both of which have significant health implications, Stevie will be proving his value.