Joanne O’Riordan, 18, is one of only nine people in the United States living with total amelia—a medical condition that prevents arms and legs from developing. She spoke at a United Nations-sponsored conference in April 2012 about her desire to live an independent life, and challenged tech engineers to design a robot assistant to pick up small items and help her with simple everyday tasks. Researchers at Trinity College Dublin took up the challenge and the result is Robbie the Robot, a personal care bot that was developed with a budget of just $69,100. Robbie has a body made from plastic, carbon fiber and aluminum with built-in sensors and actuators.

His body is topped with a 3-D printed head with an 8-inch LCD screen. The robot’s hand is comprised of a balloon filled with coffee granules. He is driven by lithium-polymer batteries. Robbie has already proven that he can be helpful. If Joanne drops something, say a pen, she can send Robbie a message via an app on her tablet, telling him to pick up the object for her. Robbie is a prototype so there is room for improvement. Currently the robot is only able to work on flat surfaces and it lacks the ability to pick up large objects. However, the development of an assistant robot on such a low budget is no small achievement. The team at Trinity is working on enhancing Robbie’s capabilities and giving him a more elegant appearance. Chief engineer, Connor McGinn says the design team is also considering commercialization possibilities.

Image credit: Fast Company


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