3D printing tech can help the disabled live better, says activist

Reut’s Josh Gottesman expects new products to assist the handicapped will emerge from a three day ‘Make-a-thon’

A member of the XLN staff shows off an open-source 3D printer (Photo credit: Courtesy)
A member of the XLN staff shows off an open-source 3D printer (Photo credit: Courtesy)

The Reut Institute’s Josh Gottesman and Arnon Zamir are organizing the first Tikkun Olam Make-a-thon (TOM), a three-day event in which inventors, creators, engineers and anyone else are invited to help make a new and better product or device to help the disabled. This is to further Gottesman’s vision that the point of technology isn’t just to make new and better things, but to make life better for people.

“We’re bringing together teams from around the world for an intense and exciting creative experience,” Gottesman said. “The teams, comprised of engineers, occupational therapists, designers, artists and individuals with other relevant skill sets, will focus on addressing needs of people with disabilities.” Using the tools of modern digital fabrication, such as laser cutters, 3D printers, and other equipment that are at the heart of the “Maker” do-it-yourself movement, “teams will produce working prototypes that assist and empower individuals living with disabilities.” There is a special emphasis on projects in the field of extreme affordability, intended to help impoverished people, Gottesman added.

“Makers” engage in “Making,” taking common household items, computers or other devices, musical instruments, cameras, printers, even food and drink, and “upgrading” them into a new product or technology. It’s a type of hacking, not of computer code, but of the physical, with Makers trying to “mash up” existing products and technologies to create something new.

The Maker movement dates back to 1995, with the advent of Make magazine, which shows readers how to do things like build a 3D printer, a rocket and launcher, a guitar out of a guitar box and an amplifier out of a cracker box. Make holds festivals in four cities in the US each year, and licenses its name to groups around the world that organize festivals. A “mini-Maker” event was held in Israel last year.

Gottesman got the idea for the TOM event because he knows a lot of Maker types as a result of his work with the Reut Institute’s XLN Labs, Israel’s first open-source 3D printer lab. XLN is a meeting place for Makers, who come in to design products like keychains, bottle openers and other things using sophisticated computer programs and strong, durable plastic-like material made from corn starch (called PLA).

Israel is a world leader in 3D printing, thanks to Objet, the Rehovot-based maker and innovator of 3D technology, which recently merged with US 3D tech company Stratasys. While the printers made by Objet/Stratasys are designed to “print out” the the Rolls-Royces of the 3D world, XLN is more about hot-rodding the old ’67 Chevy in the garage. It’s that maverick spirit that TOM’s organizers want to harness for the Make-a-thon.

TOM participants are scheduled to gather in Nazareth on June 29, where they plan to ensconce themselves in the recently opened Nazareth Industrial Garden (founded by top industrial entrepreneur, Stef Wertheimer, Gottesman called the facility “gorgeous”), and use the raw materials of 3D technology, including PLA, to come up with devices and products that will make life easier for the disabled. Gottesman called the garden, founded by top industrial entrepreneur, Stef Wertheimer, “gorgeous.” Products could include anything from walking aides (canes, etc.) to small devices with sensors for detecting pulse or blood pressure. The only criteria is that the product or device be duplicable via 3D technology and affordable. The event is open to people around the world, and has “had over 150 people apply, from Israel and abroad, including applications from Argentina, Chile, Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, Mexico and the United States,” said Gottesman.

Tikun Olam is the Hebrew term for “making the world a better place,” a motto the Reut Institute takes seriously, said director Gidi Grinstein. The Reut Institute is a policy group concerned with helping to shape the future of Israeli society, he said. Established by Grinstein and others in 2004, Reut has worked closely with every Israeli government, producing studies and position papers on topics such as security, the high price of consumer goods and the role of the diaspora in modern Jewish life.

The event is partially sponsored by the Schusterman Philanthropic Network’s Connection Points, an international series of local and thematic peer-led gatherings that bring together hundreds of passionate, talented young individuals in their 20s and 30s. Participants are mostly Jewish, but this and other Connection Point events are open to all, said Gottesman.

TOM and XLN are about more than tech, and even more than Making, said Grinstein, adding that 3D printing has the potential to transform Israeli society. With open labs like XLN, which Reut plans to open around the country, Israelis in the periphery — geographical, social, or otherwise — will have the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of what Grinstein believes will be the next industrial revolution. This one would let anyone be a Maker, customizing the manufacturing process and democratizing access to custom-made products and devices to solve specific problems. “Our objective is to ‘leapfrog’ Israeli society to become a world leader in quality of life,” said Grinstein. “We’ve done extensive studies on how this can be done, and innovation, definitely one of Israel’s strengths, is a great way to ensure that the country can reach that goal in the coming decade.”

Most Popular
read more: