Engineers Ireland: Cork student takes top prize for unique ‘medi-pod’

Enterprising students develop solutions to problems faced by industry and society alike

Engineers Ireland Level 7 winners were: (from left) Sligo IT’s Ruairí McGee, Niall McHale, Gary Lyons and Anthony Mannion. Photograph: Naoise Culhane

Engineers Ireland Level 7 winners were: (from left) Sligo IT’s Ruairí McGee, Niall McHale, Gary Lyons and Anthony Mannion. Photograph: Naoise Culhane


The Engineers Ireland Innovative Student of the Year Award for 2014 has gone to a project offering a solution to the transportation of critical medical supplies over long distances and another which offers a more efficient way of harvesting willow for use as a renewable energy source.

James King, a student at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) and a native of Carrigaline, Co Cork, took first prize in the Level 8 category for his “Drone Compatible Medical Transportation Pod”. The unique “medi-pod” is designed to deliver critical medical supplies such as blood and organs, over large distances and to remote, inaccessible, possibly war-torn areas via aerial drone. There is currently no device like this on the market.

Ruairí McGee, Anthony Mannion, Gary Lyons and Niall McHale from IT Sligo won the Level 7 category for their willow harvester prototype project which involved the design, fabrication, testing and analysis of a new device for whole stem willow harvesting.

Run by Engineers Ireland and sponsored by Siemens the Innovative Student Engineer of the Year Awards aims to promote and showcase excellence in engineering degrees across Ireland. Final-year students of Level 8 and Level 7 engineering degree programmes, accredited by Engineers Ireland, are eligible to enter and the competition is judged on the merit of final year projects. The winners receive an Engineers Ireland Excellence Award trophy, the title of 2014 Innovative Student of the Year, as well as €1,500 prize money.

“I wish to congratulate all entrants, in particular the finalists, who are an example of the ingenuity and talent that exists in Ireland today,” says Engineers Ireland director general John Power. “Engineering is not only at the heart of our day-to-day lives but it is clear to see from the diverse range of projects entered this year that engineers play a vital role in many existing and developing industries in Ireland – from agriculture and automotive to technology and biomedical. Of the numerous job announcements over the past 12 months, many of these have been engineering opportunities. There continues to be real career options and demand for engineers of all backgrounds in Ireland. While there is an increase in the number of students opting for engineering at third level we still need more students choosing from the wide variety of engineering courses available to fulfil the employment needs of industry now and in the future.”

Level 8 winner James King got the idea for his project from conversations with his father who works for the ambulance service in London. “We were chatting about the difficulties in transporting blood or transplant organs through rush hour traffic in London; it’s almost impossible”, he recalls. “Then I did some research and found that 26 per cent of US combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan were potentially survivable if the right equipment and expertise had been available.”

This led him to develop an aerodynamically designed pod with internal temperature controls which can be fitted to a drone or other remote controlled aircraft to allow the vital supplies to be transported to where they are needed regardless of traffic conditions or other more serious constraints.

He has just started work on an R&D project in biomedical engineering in DCU and believes the award will stand to him in the future. “The Engineers Ireland Award gives you great profile with the industry and certainly puts the winners in the eye of the major engineering firms and that will be very good for me in the future.”

The team from IT Sligo had been asked to solve a real world problem encountered by local hotelier Charles Henry. He has a small willow plantation which he uses as a renewable hotel source for the Ardtarmon House Hotel in Ballinfull, Co Sligo. “He was harvesting three acres a year by hand and this was highly labour intensive work,” explains Ruairí McGee. “He approached the Centre for Renewable Energy & Sustainable Technologies (Crest) in Sligo IT for help in developing a more economical harvesting solution. One of the team from Crest mentioned it to one of our lecturers who asked us to take it on for our third-year project.”

The team looked at the machinery on the market which was designed for much larger scale applications and developed a smaller scale model which would meet the needs of smaller plantations. “Our harvester has two saws near ground level at the front. They cut the willow which is taken by two conveyor belts onto a trailer at the back. It is fitted to a tractor and adjustment and modification options have been integrated into the design to accommodate site variations. We need to develop it further and test it fully. We hope that a farm equipment manufacturer may become interested in commercialising it.”

“The Engineers Ireland Innovative Student Engineer of the Year Awards is sponsored by Siemens as we want to engage young people to consider careers in engineering,” says Siemens marketing manager Michael O’Connor. “Our aims as sponsors are to encourage a positive attitude towards science, technology, engineering and mathematics, to raise awareness and understanding of engineering as a career choice, and to promote a greater understanding of the role and contribution of engineering in society”

According to O’Connor the awards demonstrate the role engineering can play in society. “The 2014 entries again showed students’ ability to develop innovative solutions to challenges faced by industry and people in everyday society. From health projects that explore improvements in breast cancer screening and transporting organs to war-torn locations to innovations in farming equipment and the brewing process, this year’s entries exemplify original thinking, practical solutions and excellent technical competence.”