In October 2019, a robot called Stevie graced the cover of TIME Magazine. The social care robot was designed by Dublin start-up Akara Robotics to be of service to those in long-term care, like nursing home residents or those with disabilities. Since then a second Disinfection Robot for hospitals has been developed by the team. One member – and the only female member – of the founding Akara team is Niamh Donnelly. After studying mechanical and manufacturing engineering at Dublin City University, followed by a Masters in computer science and artificial intelligence at University College Dublin, Donnelly joined a team of five engineers to launch Akara. Its research of late has been concerned with cleaning hospitals efficiently – the existing manual process hasn’t changed since the Spanish flu pandemic – by developing UV disinfectant technology to power its Disinfection Robot. The objective is to alleviate the manual burden of existing cleaning protocols on hospital and clinical staff.
To date, Akara has secured €2.45 million in funding from the European Innovation Council, while Donnelly was individually recognised at the EU’s Prize for Women Innovators awards in December 2022, securing a ‘Rising Innovator’ title and being one of six awardees in total. Her success in a field in which women are a minority makes her a unanimous winner of our 2023 STEM award.

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