Blog Article

Enable The Future

Enable The Future

January 27 2015

By Charlotte Knight

With thanks to Jen Owen for writing this blog post.

Over the past 10 years, my garage has filled up with random, weird creations that materialise after another one of my husband Ivan’s “crazy ideas”...from a leaf blower powered ping pong ball launcher and a working hovercraft to giant mechanical puppet hands that win you a lot of compliments for “coolest costume ever” at Steampunk Conventions.

I never imagined that those large mechanical puppet hands would spark a world-wide maker movement of over 3500 individuals from all different cultures, religions, political views, educational backgrounds, ages, and occupations who have come together to volunteer to design and create over 700 (and climbing!) free 3D printed mechanical hands for children and adults in need.

Back in 2011, Ivan received an email from a carpenter in South Africa who had cut off four of his fingers in a woodworking accident and had seen the short Youtube video of the mechanical prop hands he had made. He had one question for him: “Have you ever thought about making something like this for real people?” Indeed - he hadn’t.

For nearly a year, they worked together to create a single finger design for the carpenter from 10,000 miles apart by sharing photos of design ideas, spending hours holding up prototypes in front of webcams and mailing things back and forth across continents. It was painstakingly slow but they made progress and it wasn’t until they had created the first full hand prototype for a 5 year old boy born with no fingers, that Ivan researched 3D printers. 

He knew that the boy was going to outgrow the device very quickly and realised that if he scripted the design into a 3D printable file, every time the child outgrew his device, they could simply scale the file up by 5% and print him a new one in mere hours, for very little cost. Then he realised that this could benefit many others, so they decided to share the files open source and released them to public domain so that anyone could print one for their own child, or take the design and improve upon it.

Jon Schull, a professor at RIT saw the potential for a global collaborative network using the power of the internet and 3D printing technology and helped take an idea that originally benefited one child and created a space online where thousands of individuals could come together to collaborate and help hundreds and thousands more. 

The e-NABLE community continues to grow at a steady rate and innovation seems to come almost faster than we can keep up with but thanks to technology that allows people 10,000 miles away from one another to “send someone a digital hand” for them to print out at the click of a button - we are able to prototype and research and collaborate in ways we could never have done before. In a year’s time, we went from one basic design to over 10 designs for both hands and arms, including a myo-electric version as well as the beginnings of an exo-skeleton design for those who still have fingers but can not use them due to loss of function.

One of the most exciting parts of this all - is that more and more schools are bringing e-NABLE into their classrooms and that young students are not only getting excited about 3D printing, science, maths and engineering - but they get to see how it all can help another person in a real world situation by making a simple 3D printed hand for another child in need.