Makers show off working prototypes after three days at TOM Israel
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TOM Israel was a three day hackathon-like event for makers to create working prototypes of devices for people with disabilities. We visited the demo day and saw these impressive devices

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Right to left: TOM co-founder Arnon Zamir and Stef Wertheimer

For the last three days 78 makers worked almost around the clock to create prototypes of devices for people with disabilities that either help them cope with everyday tasks or make it easier for them to participate in activities that make life more enjoyable, like creating music or playing soccer.

The makers were all participating in TOM, which stands for Tikkun Olam Make-a-thon, a three-day hackathon-like event in the Nazareth Industrial Park that challenged participants to get to know a specific individual’s need and create a solution. The makers then had three days to work with mentors and other experts to use 3D printers, laser cutters and other machinery in order to create working prototypes to address that need.

“We gave them all the resources they needed except time”

The event was organized by Josh Gottesman and Arnon Zamir of the Reut Institute, a nonprofit organization that supports initiatives focused on national security and economic development in Israel. The event was also in partnership with the Schusterman Philanthropic Network’s Connection Points and Reut’s Cross Lab Network (XLN), a network of 3D printing labs in Israel that is looking to foster a shift to customized manufacturing from mass production.

Thirteen teams presented at TOM’s demo day on July 1, showing off working prototypes that were difficult to believe came out of three days of work. (Many of the teams had started ideating their projects before the program, but most of the work was done in the Industrial Park.)

The products, which include an arm that can be controlled by brain waves and a customized prosthetic hand, are mostly ready for use, but the demo day mostly focused on the future, emphasizing that what happened in Nazareth was just the beginning. All the projects’ designs will be available through open source on the internet and TOM has worked to give teams opportunities and support to continue developing their products. For example, Tech for Good and Terra Ventures have offered free consulting to any participants wishing to continue on their projects and Indiegogo has offered a discount for any project seeking funding. The Reut Institute, meanwhile, is establishing C-IDEA, or the Center for Inclusive Design and Extreme Affordability, to support projects and continue the vision of TOM.

The Demo Day started with a tour of the “Maker Space,” a warehouse-like room with machinery, desks and other tools being used by the participants rushing to finish their products before their demonstrations. Before the presentations, Stef Wertheimer, Israel’s richest man and the founder of several industrial parks including in Nazareth, praised the program, noting that it is in line with his life’s work of supporting industry and manufacturing as a way of helping bring peace in Israel.

“It’s extremely interesting to see the amount of people who want to help people with special needs,” he said, noting that manufacturing these devices could create jobs. “We need somebody who says ‘we want to make it and make it here.’”

The audience was also addressed by Gershon Miller, founder of Stratasys, the world’s leading manufacturer of 3D printers and a supporter of TOM. 

These were the project in the order they presented:

Matkot for all: Difficult to play if someone has a disability that impairs their hand-eye coordination, so this team designed paddles that are easier to control and throw a light or a sound back and forth instead of a ball. The paddles, which can been docked for easier control, make the noise of the ball hitting them when swung and throw a light to the other paddle. In the future, the team intends to improve on the product to allow it to throw water splashes, and to create a mobile app for playing matkot.

ALS FRS: A mobile app that is a Functional Rating Scale for ALS patients that can connect to a device that tracks breathing and a Kinect or VVVV to track movement and test the user’s walking, breathing, writing and speech capabilities. The team 3D printed a breathing device that connects to the phone and app and measures breathing. Through a Kinect or VVVV video function, these devices can track movement and the app can tell whether the patient is experiencing any differences in their capabilities.

Walk-It: A tool that can turn any standard pair of crutches into a walker. Walkers can be cumbersome and limit movement because of their bulk and size, but crutches don’t provide the same amount of stability. This device connects two crutches and adds two legs that provide stability, so the user can switch between a walker and crutches depending on what works better for a specific environment without having to carry both.

Music from the Mind: An EEG sensor that can read brain waves and translate them into commands. This group created a headband with two brain wave sensors. The team showed a few applications with the headband, including one that turns the brain waves into music. The team also created a robotic arm that could be controlled by brain waves and demonstrated the device on stage with Sefi Udi, a quadriplegic who used his brain waves to play a song, move the arm, and take a picture of the audience.

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Music from the mind team

Pressure relief in a wheelchair: Wheelchair users often get pressure sores from sitting without movement and need a caretaker to lift them to relieve those sores. This team created an air pressure cushion that can be added to any wheelchair and can lift the person up and down to relieve pressure.

Eye control/Eye Writer: Eye control is a new technology that can allow people without arm movement to control devices. The technology is expensive, so this team designed a camera that sits on glasses and can allow the user to control their internet browser with looks to the left, right, up, down or a wink. The device was based on the design of Google Glass, which is apparently available for free online.

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Eye Control demo

FunKeyz: This team 3D printed pieces that can be used to design a keyboard any way someone wants. By placing them over a tablet screen, the user can pick where different keys are so someone who has trouble using a standard keyboard can type and control a computer. Keys can be placed next to each other, or spaced apart and the sizes of different keys can be chosen by the users.

Rhythm: A bracelet that tracks vibrations and can turn any vibrations into sounds. The bracelet wearer can tap on any surface and the related software uses the vibrations to make music that sounds like drums or an electric guitar. The bracelet can also be clipped to surfaces and track the vibrations that way.

Walk the dog: A tool that allows people in wheelchairs to walk their dogs without the leash getting tangled in the wheels. The tool goes around the wheelchair at mid-wheel level and has ropes on the sides where the leash attaches to. The device also comes with a lever so the owner can lock the leash if the dog is running too far away or running into a busy street.

Lend me a hand: A prosthetic hand for a 9-year-old who was born with one hand. The team used a design for a prosthetic and tailored it specially for the kid, whose dream was to throw a ball with that hand. The hand was designed after the child’s other and and all the parts were 3D printed at the event. The child was able to move the fingers of the hand by flexing his wrist certain ways. The team said they will continue to work on it to allow the child to move each finger individually.

ALYN Children’s Hospital: The hospital team came up with two devices: a portable kit that allows a disabled child to play goalie in soccer and a device that helps kids move out of their wheelchairs and on to the floor where most fun play activities happen. The soccer kit included a goal that could be easily pitched like a tent and a seat that would allow a child to sit on it and slide back and forth to block the goal. The seat has gradual deceleration so the user won’t fall off.

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ALYN’s soccer kit

The second device consists of two small boards with a carjack-like tool in between that can separate the boards to whatever distance and be used as a tabletop or as a stepper to help a child lower him or herself to the floor.

Shoehada: This team 3D printed customized shoes. People with disabilities that cause them to have different size feet or different needs for each foot either have to purchase customized shoes or buy multiple pairs. This team was able to 3D print shoes in one piece using different materials for the sole and the top and also 3D print just the soles so the user could customize his or her own top for the shoe. By the way, “Shuhada” is Arabic for “what is this?”

Indoor Wall Avoidance: Intel sent a team to the conference that designed a tool that can help blind people walk around in their homes and avoid bumping into walls without feeling with their hands. The tool is a headpiece that fits over a hat and has three sensors that work like your car’s reverse beeping system. Instead of beeping, the sensor sends a vibration to wearer on the side where the wall is one meter away. The closer the wearer gets to the wall, the stronger the vibration.

Several of the teams, including Indoor Wall Avoidance, Music from the Mind, Walk-It, Funkeyz, ALS FRS and Rhythm won prizes sponsored by Deloitte, ALS Prize4Life, Alliance for Global Good, OurCrowd, Google Launchpad and Terra Ventures, respectively. The prizes come with some funding and support from the sponsor to help keep the projects going.

We see a lot of these 3-day hackathon-like events, and most of the time the projects seem to fall flat right after the demo day ends. Here’s hoping that with all the resources TOM worked to provide, at least some of these projects continue on to help more than just the person who inspired the design.

Video: Check out the Maker Space

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Aviva Gat

About Aviva Gat


Olah Chadasha and former finance reporter from New York City. Gat is a writer, runner and traveler who came to Israel for the good food and weather. She writes for Geektime’s English and global desk.

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