8-year-old aspiring engineer wins coveted medal for children’s hospital invention

Francesca with her Unicorn Health Bot

Above: Francesca with her Unicorn Health Bot

Talented Francesca Mobberley, from Whickham, designed her Unicorn Health Bot (Unibot) as part of the Primary Engineer ‘Leaders Award Competition’ after being inspired by her younger brother’s hospital experience.

The Leaders Award competition asks young pupils, "If you were an engineer, what would you do?". Francesca’s answer to that question - the Unibot - is an eye-catching model unicorn, designed to keep children calm in hospital and offer a pleasant distraction, whilst reading essential vital signs such as oxygen levels and heart rate via a sensors concealed in its body. 

A Year 3 pupil at Dame Allan’s Junior School in Newcastle, Francesca first designed her Unibot as part of a homework challenge when she was six years old. Now, her invention has evolved to become a working prototype, created with the help of the University of Sunderland.

Francesca’s entry was selected as one of only three 2023 gold award winners in the country, and she was awarded a gold Primary Engineer MacRobert Medal at a ceremony at the Institute of Mechanical Engineering, London. This prestigious award celebrates pupil innovation, public engagement, and industry of the ProtoTeams - such as those at the University of Sunderland - who have built entrant’s ideas. 

Speaking about her invention, Francesca said: “I’m really proud to have won my medal. When I saw how scared my little brother was in hospital, I knew I wanted to do something that could help little children like him. I also love unicorns! When I grow up, I hope to be an engineer and help more people.”

As part of her application for the competition, Francesca had to write a letter explaining her design, as well as include blueprints of her vision for the Unibot. 

Mr Ross Watson, a teacher at Dame Allan’s Junior School, is the school lead for the Primary Engineering competition. Speaking about Francesca’s win, he said: “It’s been a fantastic journey for Francesca, starting with her original design when in Year 1, through to collecting her gold medal in London when in Year 3. She has been fully involved in every step of the process and it was amazing to see her standing with her creation, telling all the mechanical engineers at the institute exactly how it worked and how it would help people.”

Mr Dave Knapton, Associate Head of School for Engineering at the University of Sunderland, worked with his team to bring Francesca’s Unibot to life. They also created a smaller 3D model for Francesca to take home with her.

Dave commented, “Francesca’s idea stood out to us not only because of the novel idea, but she did a brilliant job to communicate that to the judging panel with sketches and the letter she wrote. The Unibot really demonstrates the importance of engineering technology solving real world problems to improve people's lives. It is really pleasing to see that the future of engineering and technology is in safe hands!”