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'Build me a robot': Irish teen's challenge to tech community

Joanne O’Riordan, who has no limbs, told UN conference that “technology is the limb I never had”.

Joanne O'Riordan at the UN's International Teclecommunications Union conference yesterday in New York.
Joanne O'Riordan at the UN's International Teclecommunications Union conference yesterday in New York.
Image: AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews/PA Images

AN IRISH TEENAGER who was born with a very rare condition which means she has no limbs has challenged the tech community to build her a robot to help pick up items such as phones or pens.

Delivering the keynote speech at a United Nations conference in New York on women in technology, 16-year-old Joanne O’Riordan from Cork spoke of the difference technology had made in her life so far and that “technology is the limb I never had”.

“Technology has opened up a world of possibilities,” she said, “through which I have excelled in both my education and social environment around me”:

I can use my mobile phone, send texts, tweets, update my Facebook, play my PlayStation, Nintendo DS, iPad, iPod, and laptop; without Microsoft, Adobe and Apple in my life I would not be doing and achieving my full potential. In fact I think my life would be quite different to what it is now.

Believe it or not I simply use my upper and bottom lip, chin, nose and hand to work most if not all these systems.

O’Riordan said that the technology had developed significantly since she was a young child, and she called on women leaders in technology to do as she does and “think outside the box” in developing ways to make technology more accessible to the people who really need it.

“It’s my wish and challenge to you and to others out there to build me a robot,” she told the conference. “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.”

She told Morning Ireland today that after the conference there were people who knew others who worked in the field of robotics “so hopefully they’ll all get in contact and maybe we could all work together”.

O’Riordan said she hopes a robot could help her live a more independent life.

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

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