Over the last couple of months we have seen the technology industry as a whole take a giant ass pounding. Companies like Facebook and Google have been taking the brunt of abuse due to a range of controversies all stemming from the Cambridge Analytica scandal. While pulling up companies who misbehave is something that we all have to do, it is important to remember that technology by it’s very nature has been created to aid and improve our lives. So much so that we probably don’t even realise it anymore.
That’s fine but remember this, technology is so much more than data mining and shady political bs and while shows like Black Mirror are great for making us think they don’t exactly show the true reasoning behind technological innovation. With this in mind we recently stumbled across a Limerick based open source volunteer group who aim to put the feel good factor back into tech. Using 3D printing the Open Creators Limerick group with the help of E-Nable have been printing prosthetic hands for children in need. Ya that’s right there are a bunch of Irish folk giving up their free time to use technology to improve kids lives and as ever the Irish media is too busy showing the bad rather than focusing on the good. That changes now.
So what is 3D Printing
Ok, so bare with me on this one but do you know when you are icing a cake?
You put the icing all melted and sticky into the bag, then you squirt it out and make your design. Basically that’s 3D printing in a nutshell but the icing is melted plastic, the bag is the printer and the cake is the thing you are trying to print. Simple.
Instead of traditional printing where ink meets paper on a flat surface, a 3D printer moves in an upward motion creating layer upon layer until the pre-set design is printed. Check out the video here to see for yourself.
The e-Nable Program
The e-NABLE Community is an amazing group of individuals from all over the world who are using their 3D printers to create free 3D printed hands and arms for those in need.
They are people who have put aside their political, religious, cultural and personal differences – to come together and collaborate on ways to help improve the open source 3D printable designs for hands and arms for those who were born missing fingers or who have lost them due to war, disease or natural disaster.
The e-NABLE Community is made up of teachers, students, engineers, scientists, medical professionals, tinkerers, designers, parents, children, scout troops, artists, philanthropists, dreamers, coders, makers and every day people who just want to make a difference and help to “Give The World A Helping Hand.”
How did it happen?
Way back in 2011 Ivan Owen created this mad looking metal hand for a cosplay outfit and when he got back from the convention he posted a short clip to YouTube. This short and simple clip made it’s way to a chap called Richard in South Africa who had lost some fingers in a carpentry accident. Using Skype, email and all that fun stuff the to began to collaborate to create something to help Richard and then they went one further and created a special assisted device for a young local boy who was born with no fingers on one hand. This began a ripple effect which would eventually stretch around the world
After creating the first prototype, Ivan realized that he would quickly outgrow the hand and started researching the use of 3D printing to create the next version. He taught himself how to use 3D printer design software and a well known 3D printer company, Maker Bot actually donated 2 machines to help get E-Nable of the ground.
Now here’s where it gets interesting. Instead of patenting the design for this new hand and making a profit, Ivan decided to publish the design files as open-source so that people could download and print these devices for anyone that needed one too – anywhere in the world. This is how the E-Nable community started.
Around 100 people got on board, offering their printers and skills to help develop the program. In that first year the group had reached over 3,000 volunteers with over 750 hands created worldwide.
Now thanks to these people, their generosity and their ability to use technology for good, people can have hope. This program is the one place in the world where people with missing fingers, hands or arms can get help from people who are using 3D printed devices that can help them with daily tasks that are easier to perform with 2 fully functional hands. Oh and guess where their Irish operation is based?
The Fab Lab and the Irish connection
The Irish division of the E-Nable Community comes in the form of the Open Creators of good ole Limerick City! Working out of the amazing communal maker space the Fab Lab in town these bunch of lecturers, students, engineers and everything else in between can come together to create.
We actually caught up with Ruth and Jack who sat down and gave us the low down in our most recent episode of the Tech Yurt podcast which you can listen to here:
While it’s still early days in Ireland and this group haven’t got the ability to manufacture at the same volume as other countries. That’s why they have put their noggins together to become one of the leading R&D areas of the group where they have solved issues like – Best materials for gripping on the fingertips and improving material choices, styles are placement of strapping for a better quality and more comfortable fit. These slight innovations are then shared to over 12,000 people in the E-Nable Community to help improve their designs. While this may seem trivial to you or me it is this attention and focus to create the best product for the kids that have led to Limerick’s high standing in the community. We are sure having met them and knowing the ability of the team, these guys could end up changing how prosthetic s are made forever.
What can we do to help
Well if you’re one of the few with a 3D printer and you would like to lend a hand (pun not intended I promise) then you can hit up the Limerick based division on their Facebook account and start putting your modelling skills to good use. If you haven’t got skills that you think will help remember this, each hand costs about €30 each so if you want to reach into your pocket and buy them extra material it will be going to a good cause.
Alternatively we also have our own Patreon account open these days. 70% of every donation we get will be pumped back into tech for good causes and the rest will help us grow. https://www.patreon.com/goosed
Remember even in the midst of all the bad press technology has gotten over the last number of weeks and months it is important to remember all the good that can be done. It’s like anything else really arseholes will always find a way of exploiting a system for their own personal gains but when you have good people with the right intentions, technology can literally be a tool to change the world for the better. We just have to decide which person we want to be.