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The MakerBot Assistive Technology Challenge

mouth pointer

I was looking for some new information on disability technology online and came across the Assistive Technology Challenge, held in America and run by 3D printing company MakerBot.

The technology fan in me found this incredibly exciting! I’ve blogged for Aidis about 3D printing before and how it helps disabled people – but I’d never heard of a competition to design gadgets for disabled people using 3D printing – until now that is! I wanted to investigate more…

The Challenge!

MakerBot (a 3D printing company) recently ran an Assistive Technology Challenge for users of it’s online community Thingiverse to create a 3D printing prototype of an assistive device for disabled people. Thingiverse encourages everyone to create and ‘remix’ (create their own idea from another user’s design) 3D things, whether they are experienced in technology and design or not. To keep an open platform, all designers are encouraged to have a Creative Commons license that lets others use their designs.  Everyone who entered the Challenge was required to create a prototype of their product using 3D printing techniques. They then tried the products out on disabled people and were judged for third, second and first place and The Challenge winner has recently been announced! Drum roll please!!!

In Third Place…..

In third place was the team Assistive Devices for Assistance Dogs. The team wanted to create something that acknowledged that assistance dogs need a helping hand (or paw!) as much as their owners do! The Assistive Devices for Assistive Dogs Starter Kit includes a 3D printable light switch paddle (for turning light switches on and off!), a doorknob puller and finally a set of scent coded training fobs to make it easier for dogs to learn to find specific targets within busy or messy environments. These fobs work because dogs are so good at detecting different scents – so when a blue fob is filled with, for example, garlic, the dog soon connects the colour to the scent and can find the target. Brilliant! This Starter Kit will definitely make training assistive dogs easier for the owners and their furry four-pawed companions too.

In Second Place…

HU-GO is a 3D printable wheelchair, designed for people in third world countries. The creator of the wheelchair visited Chile (his home country) and saw the need for wheelchairs for adults and children with disabilities that were cheap to produce so that they were more affordable. When he returned home, the creator began to think about his own wheelchair and make small  differences to make it better. Eventually he designed an affordable wheelchair that could be built using a 3D printer and everyday items that are used around the home. The creator built the wheelchair in the hope that it would help people with disabilities in developing and third world countries to be able to afford this vital piece of mobility equipment. The wheelchair is made up of 3D printed parts, plywood, zip ties and household items like socks and flour bags for cushioning the wheelchair to make it more comfortable for its users. A great invention and one that I’m sure will come in very useful to many people.

Finally, In FIRST Place….!!!

After more than 170 submissions, the winner is…Tobias Wirtl’s Mouth Operated Computer Mouse! After reading about difficulties people with disabilities face in accessing new technologies, Wirtl wanted to create a device that was designed to enable more people with disabilities to use the Web. At the moment there are some good products designed to help disabled people use a computer and get online; however, they are known to be incredibly expensive meaning that the people who need these devices the most are often unable to afford them. Wirtl kept money at the forefront of his mind when creating the mouse. He made sure that it was easy to replicate so that people could either make the product themselves or have somebody else build the product for them.

Tobias said: “There are many new technologies that people with disabilities can’t access and in my opinion everyone should be able to benefit from today’s media, especially the Internet.” “That’s why I decided to create a device that would allow people to navigate the Web. Products like these sell for hundreds of dollars. I created this one with one 3D printer and about $20 worth of commonly available components.”

The Mouse looks really cool for a start! It looks sort of futuristic and sci-fi related – it wouldn’t look out of place in one of the Star Wars movies! The Mouth Operated Mouse works by moving the cursor by use of a mouthpiece, which works like a joystick. The person pushes the mouthpiece towards the case which operates the right mouse button. The left mouse button works by using a sensor that recognizes when the user sucks air through it. The system can be connected to virtually any PC via USB and the case also allows the mouse to be mounted onto standard tripods by using a 1/4 inch screw! This is a brilliant invention and one that I’m sure many people will go crazy for – I’m already going nuts writing this blog about it!

To end this blog here’s what the President of MakerBot had to say about the competition: “Each time we hold a MakerBot Thingiverse Challenge, we are amazed by the things people create…We’d like to thank everyone who participated in this challenge and we encourage people to continue to create and expand upon these designs to empower even more people around the world who have disabilities.”

A lovely note to finish on. Awesome technology and awesome creators!

How do you use assistive technology? Remember Aidis is always here if you need a hand!

 

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