Leadership Reflections: Development of a Bio-Inspired Soft Toy for Hospitalised Children and a Trinity Robotics Team

Article by Dylan Cuskelly (Physical Sciences, Laidlaw Scholar 2020)

For my leadership-in-action project this summer I leveraged my familiarity with the engineering design process and the skills I learned during summer 1 in an infield application of research to develop a version of a bio-inspired soft robotic toy for hospitalised children, previously developed by Molly O’Mara, a master’s student who was supervised by my supervisor. During this project, I worked alongside five other undergraduates from across Trinity’s engineering and science departments.  

We had three main goals for this summer. The first of which was to set up a robotics team in Trinity  College Dublin which will be used in the future as a platform to encourage students from all backgrounds to learn about and get involved in the exciting field of robotics.  The second was to get up to speed with robotics development and learn how to simulate, design, and build robots for a range of applications; initially focusing on care robotics. Our last goal was to each apply what we had learned to a project to demonstrate our skills. 

The overall shape and design of the affectionately named TACO robot I developed were based on previous research and in-field testing performed by Cara O’Brien and Molly O’Mara. The previous robot was too large to be easily used by children less than 5 years old. I reduced all the functionality of TACO into a shell that is 66% of the original size. This outer shell is covered by a soft microfibre layer with memory foam in between, making it easy to clean and removing all sharp edges.  TACO has a breathing mechanism and heat pads to provide warmth, as well as a simple LED face which all together provides comfort and a sense of life in the room to hospitalised children.  

During this project I learned how to use robotic operating system (ROS) software which is a software development package used to program and simulate almost all modern robotic systems including the  Curiosity Rover that recently landed on Mars. As well as this, I became familiar with Git, the main tool used by software engineers to collaborate and track progress on coding projects. Having learnt how to use these tools, I will now be able to manage future coding and robotics development projects more effectively.  

We are now in the process of setting up social media and a website to show who we are, document the work we have done and encourage other students to get involved in the future. All the code we produced has been made open-source with supporting documentation to allow future members to easily get up to speed and contribute to the team. 

This in-field application of research served as an excellent platform for developing my skills as a  scientist, engineer and leader and raised my awareness and understanding of how my research can be directly applied to real-life situations. 

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