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Programming, digital fabrication and electronics for young makers of paediatric hospital departments.

Programming, digital fabrication and electronics for young makers of pediatric hospital departments.

Robo&Bobo is a project by Turin-based associations PLUG and DEAR - Design Around with design consultancy TODO, supported by Fondazione Vodafone Italia through the Digital for Social funding program. The project promotes literacy in the fields of design, electronics and programming by implementing a series of workshops for teen and preteen (ages 11-18) patients of the Paediatric Oncohematology department and Transplant Center at Turin’s Regina Margherita Hospital.

The idea for Robo&Bobo began during a conversation with the head of the hospital department, in which they uncovered a common interest in “humanising” healthcare facilities and especially paediatric hospitals. The project was then made possible by the partnership between three organisations: Plug Creativity, DEAR - Design Around Onlus, and TODO.

The workshops developed and led by Robo&Bobo aim to turn digital technologies into learning tools within STEM disciplines, in a way that is both stimulating and playful: Robo the robot joins forces with Bobo the maker to create new artifacts.

The five workshops designed for the first edition of the project were:

  • Preent: learn to 3D model and 3D print
  • Codix: learn block programming with blocky and Ozobot
  • Joy-Bit: learn about electronics with a touch board
  • Eye-Oh: discover virtual reality with Google Cardboard
  • Cir-Cut: build paper circuits

The main issue the team wanted to target was the lack of activities in the teenagers’ ward; the goal was to implement educational activities inside the hospital, in support of the recreational ones which were already scheduled.

During the second year, the team sought to build a learning process with growing design goals, in order to engage with long-term patients too. The team also aim to create a bridge with the outside world, to distance patients from their clinical conditions (at least during the workshops) and to reduce isolation.

The whole project followed a user-centered approach: the initiative started with observational research and interviews, then followed with design development and two cycles of user testing before finally rolling out the activities on the ward. This approach promotes better alignment between patients, doctors and spaces, bypassing the natural distrust doctors have towards people taking patients’ attention away from their care. In general, a shared process of co-creation has proved valuable in similar difficult contexts.

All the activities were developed using rapid prototyping techniques. More recently, for a new workshop dedicated to digital graphics, the team also introduced an analogical approach to digital tools, following the Bruno Munari methodology to experiment with signs and textures. Finally, a sociologist has been monitoring all the activities onsite, collecting valuable data and statistics on the workshop’s development and progress.

In other cases, the team has not been able to implement its ideas fully: for example, it was not possible to develop peer education activities because of the patients’ differing psychological conditions, but they are still keen exploring options. Equally, creating relations between Robo& Bobo activities and patients’ regular school education has also been difficult.

In the first year of activity, the project offered 185 workshops distributed to 96 participants.

The average age was 11, equally distributed over 3 groups: children 6-9 years old, pre-teens 10-13 years old, teens 14-17 years old.

Indeed, one-third of participants were younger than the intended target (11-18 years old), as the team did not want to deny access to younger kids or to their parents who had asked to participate.

There has been a slight majority of male participants (55%) over female (45%). Most of the participants were outpatients (59%), followed by long-term patients (38%) and a small group of participants from the Transplant Center (1%), where patients are confined behind glass partitions. The latter setup, combined with the weak health conditions of transplant patients, made participation very difficult.

The first year of the project was funded by the Vodafone Foundation and Compagnia di San Paolo, with technical sponsorship from 3DP World, Bare Conductive, Born in Berlin, Flying Tiger Copenhagen and Roland DGA . In its second (current) year, the project has been supported by Compagnia di San Paolo and private donations, alongside a new technical sponsor, Sales srl. Fundraising is focused on public tenders and private (particularly corporate social responsibility) donations.

The next steps of the project are to strengthen the relationship with local players interested in joining forces for their corporate social responsibility projects; to introduce artistic development and an artistic approach to the digital tools used in the workshops (going from STEM to STEAM); and to replicate Robo&Bobo in a similar context outside of Turin (e.g. Milan).


Case study date: June 2018


DEAR — Design Around is a NPO focused on the humanization of hospital environments, and of pediatric departments in particular.



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