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A robot, a song and a royal visit: big plans for Joanne O’Riordan

The Cork teen also plans to visit the Philippines, fundraise for college and liaise with Apple and MIT researchers on new technologies.

Image: Steven O'Riordan via Facebook

A SPEECH TO a United Nations technology conference by Joanne O’Riordan was met with such an overwhelmingly positive global response that the Cork teenager may not only get the robot she wants, but also a song penned by a Grammy-award winner and an invite to visit the princess of Saudi Arabia.

Now all she has to do is get One Direction – or someone better – to sing the tune ‘No Limits’ and she’ll be happy.

During that keynote address to the International Telecommunication Union’s conference ‘Girls in Technology’, Joanne issued a major challenge to those in the technology world:

“It’s my wish and challenge to you and to others out there to build me a robot,” she told those attending. “The main thing the robot would be doing is picking up the objects I drop such as a pen, knife, fork, and or my phone.”

This robot would become my hands and legs. So for example, if I was in the sitting room and I needed something from the kitchen, I would love for that robot to get me what I needed. I mean – to be fair – when you’re lazy and sitting down most of you use a remote control because you’re too lazy to get up and manually switch the TV over – and trust me that is lazy. So why can’t I have a robot?

And it looks like she may just get one. Some of the top people in the world of advanced technology have expressed their interest in working with her to develop such a device.

“Researchers at MIT in the US have been on to us,” Joanne’s brother, Steven, told “They have challenged their students to come up with something that would fulfil Joanne’s request.”

Another technology expert in China has proposed making a “transformer-type robot” for the 16-year-old, while Apple have also said they are interested in creating technology that would enable her to carry out more tasks independently.

Joanne and her mother plan on visiting University College Cork this week to discuss plans for future technology projects.

It is now the family’s aim to have this robot – or at least part of it – in place by the time Steven’s documentary, ‘No Limbs No Limits’, about Joanne’s life is released in early 2013.

More travel

Steven has been working on the documentary about Joanne’s life for some time and shot over 30 hours of footage during the trip to New York for the UN conference.

The next part of the film will look to contrast the life of his sister with that of a young boy in the Philippines who has the same rare condition. They are just two of seven people in the whole world who were born with Total Amelia.

Currently, they are trying to work out the logistics of getting Joanne to the country where she would meet Jesus but Steven says there are obviously some difficulties given the difference in development levels between the Philippines and Ireland or America.

They are hoping to travel by July but Joanne also wants to pass through Saudi Arabia to honour an invitation from the princess there.

Joanne had a chance meeting a princess of Saudi Arabia last month in NYC.

Steven told that amidst all the excitement of the past two weeks, he continues work filming and editing Joanne’s story “so an even wider audience can see and hear her”.

He now believes that the documentary will be premiered as a cinematic experience – probably in the Cork Opera House – in early 2013.

Grammy-award winner Julie Gold has penned a song for the soundtrack but the family hopes releasing it as a single will also help Joanne raise money for her college education.

To help boost sales, Gold – who is best known for writing the Bette Midler track From a Distance – and the O’Riordans are hoping to pin down a global star to sing the track.

A massive One Direction fan, Joanne had originally pitched the idea to Niall Horan and Co. but the band may be too busy on their American tour to commit to anything in the short term.

The teenager will have to turn to somebody else on her Top 20 list. “Hopefully whoever misses out will be really jealous,” jokes Steven, before adding that they want a truly renowned artist so the song is “worthy of its subject matter”.

“Realistically, it could cost up to €100,000 to €200,000 for her third-level education,” Steven explained. “When you take into account travel, board, books and other things to do it right – to make sure she has everything she needs. We don’t want to rely on the Government and we want to be able to do something where more than just us benefit.”

When the song is released as a charity single, the proceeds will be divided between Joanne’s own education fund and two charities that have special significance to her – the ISPCA and Pieta House.

She wanted to give a portion to mental health services in Ireland after receiving two separate letters from people who had thoughts about suicide but were “touched by her story and positive outlook”.

Joanne has been inundated with letters of support and gratitude from people all over the world since appearing before the women in technology conference last month.

Steven said that some offer encouragement and support, while others are from people with various disabilities who thanked her for giving them a voice.

“The reaction has been immense and completely unexpected,” said Steven.

An instant hit with her audience, there were over 2.5 million people tweeting about the event after her speech on 26 April. The O’Riordan family have thanked everyone who was involved in making Joanne’s trip to New York City for the ITU conference “really special”.

More: ‘Build me a robot’: Irish teen’s challenge to tech community>

IN FULL: Joanne O’Riordan’s speech at United Nations conference >

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