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Speech by ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun I. Touré

Ninth Broadband Commission Meeting 

Update on Joanne O’Riordan / Trinity College Robot

​23 March 2014, Dublin, Ireland

Distinguished Commissioners,

I would like to take the floor to reinforce the importance of the work we are doing here – because sometimes high-level discussions like this can seem a little removed from grassroots reality.

On Friday, I had the honour and the pleasure of visiting Trinity College Dublin to review the amazing work being done by Professor Kevin Kelly and his team from the Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering.

As some of you know, with a modest amount of seed funding from ITU, this team is working to build a robotic device to assist 17-year-old Joanne O’Riordan, the young Irish girl born with the rare condition known as Total Amelia, which means she is completely without limbs.

Joanne was one of the special guests at ITU’s Girls in ICT Day celebrations in New York in 2012, alongside our fellow Commissioner Jasna Matić and some others here in this room today. At that event, she threw out a challenge to researchers to build her a robot that could assist her with her day-to-day life.

The Trinity team took up that challenge, and many of you would have seen the results of their work in the Irish press yesterday.

For me, it was inspiring to have the chance to talk to the engineers, and to hear their commitment to finding new ways of integrating even more advanced ICT capabilities into their next prototype.

It’s clear that this type of work has enormous potential – not just to transform Joanne’s life, but to improve the lives of people in countries worldwide. There are 650 million people already living with some form of disability. As our population ages, that number will increase, and more and more people will be facing mobility and other challenges.

ICT-based robotic devices can help them live ‘normal’ lives, reducing the risk of physical injury and improving their ability to remain active and to interact with the world around them. This kind of pioneering research will yield huge benefits, and I think it really puts what this Commission is doing into context. The decisions we make in rooms like this can have a huge impact on people’s lives. We need to keep that in focus, and be bold in our vision.

ITU will continue to support the work of the Trinity College Dublin team, and I would like to echo Joanne’s challenge back in 2012 – and throw out a call myself to the ICT industry and our academic members to join us:

The Trinity team estimates that a fully functional advanced prototype that Joanne could begin to test will cost another two million Euros, and take about two years to develop.

This is not a large amount of money for an industry as vigorous as ours.

So I invite Commissioners and their representatives to join ITU – and to make Joanne’s dream a reality.

Thank you