At the end of this month TOM is hosting a three-day program for makers to use 3D printing to create tools to help people with disabilities gain independence
Sefi Udi is paralyzed from the neck down. To use a cellphone, he has to ask someone to dial the numbers for him or type in the text message he wants to send. While he is lucky to have people around to help him with every day tasks that most of us take for granted, he really just wants to be able to do these things by himself.
It is sometimes said that there are two types of people in this world: those who wait for things to happen, and those who become their own catalysts to make things happen. Despite his disability, Udi is definitely of the latter bent.
Udi is an industrial design student focused on turning his needs into tools that can help him, and others with disabilities, be able to do things independently. When he decided he wanted to be able to operate his own cellphone without help, he took a bicycle phone dock and adapted it for his wheelchair. He then designed a holder for a stylus so he could use his mouth to type.
Udi considers himself a maker; he is someone who, instead of trying to buy something made in a factory in China that may fit his needs, he makes it himself. That way, whatever he designs can be customized for exactly the way he wants it.
Repairing the world
Later this month Udi will be participating in a three day hackathon-like event called the Tikkun Olam Make-a-thon, or TOM, where makers – designers, engineers, programmers and others with technical skills – will work with ‘need knowers’ – people with disabilities, doctor and therapists – to develop tools that will help people with different needs. Tikkun Olam is a Hebrew phrase that means “repairing the world,” and that is what the conference is aiming to do – one design at a time.
During the 72-hour event, taking place from June 29 through July 1 at Stef Wertheimer’s industrial park in Nazareth, participants will attend skill sessions, meet with mentors and work together for some spontaneous, structured creativity. With the use of 3D printers, laser cutters and other rapid manufacturing equipment, the teams will be able to make working prototypes of their products to present at a demo-day at the end of the program.
The co-founders of TOM, Josh Gottesman and Arnon Zamir, said they are anticipating 80 participants, including 10 teams of innovators and mentors and other personnel. Each team will be challenged with developing a tool for a specific person’s need. One team, for example, will be designing a prosthetic hand for a 9-year-old, another will be making a robotic arm equipped with eye control, and yet another will work to enable a child with no arms or legs to play soccer, as a goalie.
All the designs will be available through open source so that others not at the event can benefit from the creativity and innovation at the event. But even bigger than that, TOM wants to grow Israel’s maker community and put the country at the forefront of the 3D revolution.
“We are far more interested in creating a movement,” Gottesman said. “If every team has a working prototype, but there is no collaboration afterwards we have failed.”
TOM is part of the greater makers movement, which after years of society moving away from hands-on creating, is trying to bring back the pre-industrial revolution concept of designing and creating things by hand. We’re not talking about bringing back the assembly line or dumping manufacturing machinery, though. The modern day makers movement is all about do-it-yourself solutions so that products can be fully customizable for specific people’s needs instead of products being mass produced for the greatest common denominator.
For instance, last year during a competition hosted by 3D printing lab XLN, called “Creating the Products of Tomorrow,” Moshe Boruchin designed a spoon with a specific grip inspired by his grandmother, who had been an artist all her life, but with age slowly became unable to keep a steady hand to feed herself. With 3D printing, he was able to make the grip of a spoon exactly for her handshape so she could better take food from a plate to her mouth.
With the makers movement, using 3D printers makes it just as easy to produce one product as it is to make many, so customizable products designed for a specific person’s injury or need becomes an everyday reality.
TOM is part of the Schusterman Philanthropic Network’s Connection Points and is being organized in partnership with the Reut Institute’s Cross Lab Network (XLN). XLN is a 3D printing lab in Tel Aviv established by Reut to foster a shift to tailor-made manufacturing from mass production and ensure that Israel is ahead of the emerging self-manufacturing revolution.
Both the SPN and Reut are organizations that look to advance Israeli or Jewish projects that can better humanity, but TOM is not just accepting Israeli or Jewish participants. While roughly two thirds of its participants are Israeli (Including Arabs), it is also hosting designers from five countries around the world.
TOM received more than 170 applications from individuals and teams of makers to participate in the event. Unable to accommodate all the enthusiastic applicants, the TOM team is working to finalize the list of who will be coming to the three-day event in Nazareth. Accepted participants however, are expected to get to work already so that by the time the event comes around they will already have done all their research and will be ready to ask the right questions to mentors and use the three days to complete their designs and make a working prototype. For instance, TOM is hosting a meeting for its Israeli participants Wednesday, June 11, to get them to start working.
Time to start working
Gottesman said some of the participants are coming with an already formed team and an idea to work on, while others are being placed in teams by TOM and given projects that they can pursue. At the end of the event prizes will be awarded to the most successful teams, as well to teams that exercise extreme affordability so their projects can help the more impoverished people. Other prizes will be awarded for helping other teams in order to cultivate a collaborative competition atmosphere.
The event is also catching the attention of some other big names that have pledged support in some way, including Intel, Bituach Leumi, Stratasys, SU-PAD, OurCrowd, Terra Venture Partners, Google, Prize4Life, Fablabil, Milbat, and the ALYN Hospital in Jerusalem.
“We have a whole lot of people excited to be behind it,” Gottesman said.
Right now, however, TOM is still fundraising to ensure that it can accommodate its participants, its need knowers with disabilities and any personnel or helpers the need knowers may require. Gottesman did make a pitch at the MIXiii Spring Pitch a few weeks back, but an event like this needs round the clock support to provide the best environment for the creators.
“It’s not just about solving a specific need,” Gottesman said. “It’s about social developments and enabling people with disabilities to be a part of society. It’s about independence.”