Sep 30, 2015 | By Kira

Each week, there are huge technological breakthroughs in robotics, aerospace, medicine and manufacturing, however it’s often the smallest inventions that have the biggest impact on our daily lives. Yes, NASA’s 3D printing concepts might one day get humans on Mars, but for Kim Lathrop, an amputee with no arms, her biggest concern is getting dinner on the table.

Today, MakerBot made available several free 3D designs for assistive devices, and challenged Thingiverse makers to improve on them and contribute further designs that could improve the quality of life for people like Lathrop. The 3D designs were based on prototypes from the Bay Area Makeathon for assistive technology, a 72-hour event that took place in early September organized by Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM) and United Cerebral Partners of the North Bay, and sponsored by Google.

Kim Lathrop with the award winning Grabber 3D printed device

The goal of the Makeathon was to bring together people with intimate or first-hand knowledge of real-world challenges and those with the engineering and maker skills to provide solutions. According to TOM project director Arnon Zamir and CTO Sefi Atias, it’s at this meeting point between need and talent that true innovation happens. Makers were given access to a variety of 3D printers provided by MakerBot, the official desktop 3D printing partner of the event, as well as laser cutters, machining tools, and the raw materials needed to create their life-changing devices. They also got to work directly with people with disabilities, who often afford assistive devices, or can’t find ones design to suit their individual needs.

“We are blown away by the solutions that were developed during the Bay Area Makeathon for assistive technology,” said Jonathan Jaglom, CEO of MakerBot. “There are thousands of people with disabilities around the world who can’t find off-the-shelf products that address their needs, simply because there is no business case. The Bay Area Makeathon exemplifies how 3D printing can democratize medical innovation, and we’re excited to upload the prototypes to MakerBot Thingiverse to make them available to people around the world for free and allow the global community of 3D designers to improve upon the great work done at the Bay Area Makeathon.”

So far, five prototype designs have been uploaded to the TOM Global Thingiverse page. The first is the Grabber, a stick that allows Lathrop to graph and move objects with her mouth. “This device helps me do things myself, which is a basic human desire. There are so many things I’ll be able to do now, like setting a table for guests,” she said. The Grabber won the MakerBot Award for Rapid Prototyping at the Makeathalon.

close up of the Grabber

Next up, Team Carry Crutches designed a self-stabilizing cup holder that attaches to crutches, allowing users to walk around and hold a beverage without spilling. It’s a simple task, but if you’ve ever had to wear crutches, you’ll know this is nearly impossible to do. Their innovative design is based on a 3D printed gimbal, the same kind that used to steady a camera on an aerial drone. “We know that sometimes, helping people do the simplest tasks can have a tremendous impact, that's why our team created the Carry Crutches," said Tomas Garces, a design engineer at General Electric Firstbuild and member of Team Carry Crutches. "To have a person on the team who has a need for the device was integral to our design process and we look forward to seeing how people on Thingiverse improve upon it.”

Carry Crutches

The third design, cheekily named the Smart Ass, is a 3D printed device with sensors that can be fitted to the bottom of a wheelchair seat and warn either the wheelchair user or their caregiver when the person’s weight needs to be shifted to ensure proper blood flow and reduce the risk of painful, life-threatening pressure sores.

iEat is an independent feeder designed for those with limited hand control, who often struggle with using a knife, fork, or spoon to eat by themselves. Made up from several 3D printed parts, the iEat costs much less to produce than other feeding devices, and helps restore a much-needed sense of independence.

The iEat Independet Feeder

Finally, we have the Pill Crush. Many people don’t like swallowing pills, or simply can’t when they are too big. The Pill Crush is a portable medicine grinder that doubles as a syringe. The prototype was made with a MakerBot, but the final version will be made of non-stick materials and reduce medicine waste.

The 3D design files for each of these projects are already available on Thingiverse, and makers are invited to join the Assistive Technology Challenge in order to rethink, remix, and improve the existing prototypes. If they have ideas for new devices, they are also invited to submit original designs. Submissions will be judged based on creativity, usability, and real-world impact. The contest is open until November 1st, and prizes include a MakerBot Replicator 5th Generation, a chance to be featured on the Thingiverse website, and strategic consulting to take their prototyope to the market and help people globally.

The TOM Makeathon event and ensuing Thingiverse Challenge bring together the very best aspects of the maker community, collective knowledge and open source designs, and the affordability and accessibility that 3D printing technology allows in order to truly do something good and change the world for the better. No matter how many new 3D printing stories I come across—and there are dozens every single day—these projects are truly the ones that inspire me and remind me of why I became interested in the first place. It’s not just about technological development for it’s own sake: it’s that crucial intersection of real-world needs and unstoppable talent that brings out the goodness of humanity.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications





Maybe you also like:


Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to Feeds twitter facebook   

About provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive