Alyn hospital hackers seek to remake the world for disabled

Israel’s biggest rehabilitative hospital for kids kicks off its new ‘maker lab’ project with a hackathon to develop new tech to help handicapped kids

Hackers at a Tikkun Olam Makers makeathon at Alyn Hospital in Jerusalem, March 15, 2016 (Courtesy)
Hackers at a Tikkun Olam Makers makeathon at Alyn Hospital in Jerusalem, March 15, 2016 (Courtesy)

Jerusalem’s Alyn Hospital, the country’s biggest rehabilitation center for physically challenged and disabled children, adolescents and young adults, aims to become the world’s first full-time “maker lab” to develop projects to help the disabled. To kick things off, the hospital last week held its first-ever Makeathon, in conjunction with TOM (Tikkun Olam Makers), a Reut Group project that specializes in marrying tech with causes that can benefit people worldwide.

“This event could be considered the opening event of our new Alyn Innovation Center,” said Noa Arad, director of the program at Alyn.

Speaking in the basement where the event took place Tuesday, Arad said that the huge 300-meter square space where some 75 tinkerers, programmers, and inventors had gathered would soon be dedicated solely to providing facilities for hackers to put together new and better technologies “that we will offer the disabled of the world for free.”

A makeathon is where “makers,” as they are called, use common household items, computers or other devices, musical instruments, cameras, printers, or even food and drink to create a new product or technology. It’s a type of hacking — not of computer code, but of objects, with makers “mashing up” existing products and technologies to create something new.

The maker movement dates back to 1995, with the advent of Make magazine. Each month, the magazine shows readers how to do things like build a 3D printer, build a rocket and launcher, make a guitar out of a guitar box and an amplifier out of a cracker box, and so on. Make holds festivals in four cities in the US each year, and licenses its name to groups around the world that organize festivals based on the Make name and approach.

TOM, which sponsors maker events in Israel and the US, is dedicated to developing technology to help others in need. Tikkun olam is the Hebrew term for “making the world a better place,” which is a motto the Reut Institute takes seriously, said director Gidi Grinstein.

“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.”

The Grabber mouth-based platform in action (Courtesy)
The Grabber mouth-based platform in action (Courtesy)

Quality of life is definitely what the makers at the Alyn makeathon had in mind. Projects included building a remote control that lets kids who are missing fingers control Playstations and other gaming systems, a modular prosthetic leg that folds up into a compact package for travel, and an adjustable cushion that makes holding onto a wheelchair more comfortable for those who are wheelchair-bound.

One of the more interesting projects was a typing attachment for The Grabber, a special mouth-held device that was developed at a previous TOM makeathon. The tool was developed by Alex Gecht, Noam Platt, Maayan Kahana, and Inbal Halperin for Kim Lathrop, who has no arms, to grab and move objects. The Grabber won the prestigious MakerBot Award for Rapid Prototyping at the Bay Area Makeathon last year, and has since gone on to be adopted as a platform for others in a similar situation. At the Alyn event, one team was working on an addition to the platform that would allow users to type – hitting keys on a keyboard using the typing attachment to the mouth-held Grabber.

Among the guests at the event was Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who said that he was “very impressed with the innovation shown by these projects.”

Whether those warm words will translate into cold, hard cash to fund the Alyn Innovation Center isn’t clear, said Zvi Ginosar, chairman of Alyn. “One thing that is clear to everyone is that the work we are doing here will end up saving money in the long run. If we can help people become more independent and enable them to help themselves more with the tools we plan to develop here, we predict that we will be able to cut the overall costs of caring for the disabled by as much as two thirds.”

Zvi Ginosar (C) looks on as Noa Arad (R) adjusts a cushion for use by wheelchair-bound patients (Courtesy)
Zvi Ginosar (C) looks on as Noa Arad (R) adjusts a cushion for use by wheelchair-bound patients (Courtesy)

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