Limerickman scoops awards for innovative communication program

Fintan Walsh

Reporter:

Fintan Walsh

Robert Laffan, right, with his new Engineers Ireland Student Award, pictured with Bill Grimson (left), President of Engineers Ireland, and Chris Cummins, Siemens. Picture: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland
LIT student Robert Laffan has taken home two prestigious national awards for his innovative program that improves communication with people with verbal disabilities.

LIT student Robert Laffan has taken home two prestigious national awards for his innovative program that improves communication with people with verbal disabilities.

The 33-year-old, who has just completed his final year in Industrial Automation and Robotics, took home the Student Entrepreneur Award and an Engineers Ireland prize for his innovative software that has aided communication between him and his daughter Sadie, who has autism.

Last Thursday, Robert won the Student Entrepreneur Award in Belfast, taking home a grand prize of €10,000. The following day, the LIT student travelled to Dublin to be awarded Engineers Ireland Student Engineer Award, with an additional cash prize of €2,000.

For the young innovator, the road to success doesn’t end there, as he is to be presented with a trophy by Engineers Ireland, in Dublin, this coming November.

“It was good to have the recognition from Engineers Ireland. It’s fantastic as the standard of projects that I was up against was phenomenal. There were a lot of really fantastic ideas,” he said.

“It did boost my confidence, but I’ll be honest, it hasn’t hit me at all yet. It really hasn’t sunk in at all yet. The whole point of me doing this was to help Sadie communicate and help her mother, so now I know it can help other people, and that is the ultimate goal now; to help other people,” he added.

During Robert’s studies on the Moylish campus, one particular class inspired the award-winning innovator to generate a programme that would assist communication between him and five-year-old Sadie. He said Sadie “views the world through pictures”, which is the foundation of his newly-developed software.

“So what I did was take Sadie’s pictures and incorporated them into this SCADA software, and through the programme I was able to select the text messages and then she would go through the software screen to generate a text message that alert us, either myself or my wife Emily,” he said.