Enabling the future by printing prosthetics

Passionate people fulfilling a good mission are not the immediate stuff of headlines. However, a group of volunteers deserve a shout-out for 3D-printing prosthetics that can help disabled people across the globe. Read more about them here: http://enablingthefuture.org/

Reading about them, also reminded me of a 3D-printing show that I summarized some time ago in The Norwalk Patch:

MacGyver, an American action-adventure hero from an eighties TV-series, usually solved his problems with duct tape and a Swiss-army knife. Today, designers and inventors can replicate these objects and numerous other products with the aid of three-dimensional (3D) scanners and 3D-printers. Motion-sensing devices such as Microsoft’s Kinect, a webcam-style add-on computer peripheral, or Fuel3D’s handheld 3D-scanner (one of a growing number of devices using lasers, lights, or x-rays), can be used to capture the geometry of physical objects, including oneself. The recent 3D Printshow in New York featured the genius of Joshua Harker, a pioneer in art and 3D-printing, and different companies willing to transform the ideas of at-home tinkerers into digital models. A quick Google search revealed that 3D-scanners can range from $400 to almost $85,000. It might also be worth waiting for the release of a functional 3D-scanning accessory for the iPad. According to Wired magazine, average Joes may soon be able to capture the dimensions of a room and generate 360-degree panoramic photos or create any other digital representation of the real world using the Structure Sensor.

Alternatively, 3D-aficianados (architects, designers, builders, makers and engineers), may use SketchUp, Adobe Photoshop CC (which has buttons for 3D-printing) or other appropriate software to create digital models from scratch. Others may prefer downloading shared files from Thingiverse. The next step for the cost-conscious inventor would be to find a third-party outlet or reasonably-priced machine to transform computer files into physical models. Shapeways, 3D Hubs, and i.Materialise belong to the cottage industry of 3D-printing services offered at a reasonable price to creative types. “Soup-to-nuts” consumers may also wish to read 3D Printing for Dummies or take classes at places like 3D Heights to gain insights about the printing process. Typically, an object is printedby repetitively solidifying or binding a liquid or powder in horizontal cross-sections where solid material is desired. The layering is repeated until the entire object is completed throughout its vertical dimension. Side-by-side comparisons of 24 3D-printers can be viewed on the TopTenReviews site and kits for assembling affordable printers are in development or already available e.g., printrbot.

Printing ideas into reality at the push of a button can unlock limitless creativity and also open up a Pandora’s Box of security and copyright infringement concerns. Fortunately, the US Senate just approved a 10-year extension on a ban on plastic guns invisible to metal detectors. Applying copyright infringement laws to this evolving technology may prove tricky, but John Hornick may be on to something in stating that iTunes-like models for copyrighted computer-aided design files could potentially make printing legal copies easy and economical.


One thought on “Enabling the future by printing prosthetics”

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