Sep.6, 2013

A brightly colored innovation to help families and doctors keep track of childhood vaccine records in the developing world has won the 3D Printers for Peace Contest.

The contest was organized last spring by Professor Joshua Pearce at Michigan Technological University. "We wanted to celebrate designs that will make lives better, not snuff them out," said Pearce.

The first-place entry, VaxBeads, was submitted by John Van Tuyl of Hamilton, Ontario, a master's student in mechanical engineering at McMaster University. The plastic blocks act as an immunization record. Each color and shape represents a vaccine, and the blocks can be printed with a child's initials, date of birth and an identifying number. Van Tuyl receives the top prize, an Open-source Series 1 3-D Printer donated by Type A Machines.

"We have the capacity to immunize against many diseases, but it's not getting accomplished," Van Tuyl said. Putting easily interpreted medical records into the hands of the people could help, he thought. So he developed VaxBeads, which can be strung into a necklace to represent a person's immunization record. "They are more permanent than paper, and I thought families would be more likely to save the beads than standard vaccination cards."

The judges were impressed with the design's originality and practicality. "VaxBeads are a novel idea; no one has done anything like that yet," said Pearce. "John demonstrated the ability of 3D printing to address a real need in the developing world. You could print beads fast enough to hand to children, and if they were to wear the necklace to the doctor's office, it would be quick and easy to identify missing vaccinations."

Matthew Courchaine, who took second place in the contest, is working on a double major in computer and electrical engineering at Michigan Tech. He will receive a MOST version of the RepRap Prusa Mendel open-source 3D printer kit for his entry, a solar-powered water purification cone. It is designed for use during disasters or in regions where clean water is a precious commodity. "As long as you have some sunlight and a source of water, it will work," Pearce said.

Several similar products are already on the market. "The challenge was to recreate the technology so that it can cheaply be produced using 3D printing," Courchaine said.

The third prize, a MatterHackers sampler pack of filament, was awarded to Aaron Meidinger for his design of a braille tablet, which could let a sighted person leave short notes to a blind person, or vice versa. Plastic tiles with letters in both braille and the alphabet can be arranged on a platform reminiscent of Scrabble. "It's simple, easy to make, and definitely would work," said Pearce.

Meidinger, a mechanical engineering major at Arizona State University, started thinking about language after taking a sign language class in high school. "Braille is to the blind as sign language is to the deaf, and braille is certainly not intuitive for a sighted person," he said. "There are extremely expensive tools out there that aim to create braille on a computerized tablet, but I wanted to design something that would be simple and educational for a sighted person to use, and could be useful in many ways for non-verbal communication for the blind. Even if you can't write braille, you can arrange tiles to spell out what you need to."

Pearce expressed his thanks to all the 3D Printers for Peace participants. "All the open-source entries demonstrated the technical ability and promise of low-cost 3D printers to provide for humanity's needs and advance the cause of peace."

 

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