Someone told me once years ago when I moved into a new community that whenever you are in a population of people you’ll find those who share, and then you find the ‘got miners’ and they are going to protect what they’ve created, bought, and collected at all cost. But what if you let that mentality drop away, taking care of yourself but not worrying so much about having a patent on every good thing in life as you put a focus on enjoying helping others? You begin to understand the joy—and importance—of what is behind the concept of an open-source community. This is big in the 3D printing world and the maker, hacker, tinkerer community where ideas reign over materialism. And it’s the topic being celebrated in a recent award-winning documentary by Red Hat Films, with—not surprisingly—the open-source golden child at the center: e-NABLE. This is a very humble golden child though, and through e-NABLE you can always count on a story combining the goodness of people’s hearts and actions with continuous innovation.
Open Source Stories, a new project from Red Hat Films, works to highlight those who are engaged in the open-source world, and they show the ‘trials and tribulations’ therein as well as the heartwarming successes. Undoubtedly, e-NABLE would be at the top of the list for telling the story of an inspiring journey that has been responsible for building the foundation of an entire open-source world continually nurtured by volunteers and those who care about seeing kids be able to have as much functionality as possible, whether they were born with a congenital issue or suffered an amputation. Winning the 2016 West Chester Film Festival Award for Best Documentary Film, as well as the Official Selection for the 2016 Reel to Reel International Film Festival’s Official Selection, Open Source Stories: e-NABLE explains not only the history of this amazing group of innovators and volunteers but also demonstrates exactly what is so noble about the open-source community and why it serves such an important purpose.
“This whole thing started one morning when I was sitting at home, drinking coffee, and avoiding preparing a class,” says Jon Schull, Research Scientist, RIT Magic Act e-NABLE President and e-NABLE Community Foundation founder. “I saw this Robohand video, which was created by Richard Van As, a South African carpenter, and Ivan Owen. They produced this Robohand design and they put it on the web open-sourced.”
Schull was so impressed with the whole process, product, and what was going on—including the mass of comments from those who wanted to help—that he posted a Google Map and invited volunteers to sign up and add a pin to the map if they wanted to make a hand.
In less than two years, the map went from a few hundred to around 5,000 and an incredibly long list of inspiring stories that we’ve had the privilege of covering, from providing free 3D printed hands in Ghana to a little boy in Chile very glad to receive a Spider-Man arm to a young mother in Uganda who was recently very happy to receive a new 3D printed hand. Those are just a very few examples, led by several of the amazing volunteers.
As the worldwide community of volunteers grew, the e-NABLE Community Foundation was created in support. As you watch the documentary, it’s nearly impossible to miss the sheer happiness of everyone involved as they discuss the history of e-NABLE and the Foundation, as well as what they are doing.
“I like to say we make children smile, we make parents weep, and we make nerds rejoice,” says Schull. “ And any of those is actually a real badge of honor, but to be able to do all three at all once—which is what usually happens—is huge.”
In telling their stories, there’s a sincere enthusiasm and a twinkle sparkling in nearly every eye, including that of Peregrine Hawthorne, a volunteer, who has also been missing part of his hand and arm since birth.
Hawthorne was on board not long ago when Schull gave a presentation for Intel. Displaying his bare arm and beginning to talk about his 3D printed prosthetic and putting it on expediently, the crowd rose immediately and gave him a standing ovation. While there may not have been a dry eye in that house on that day, there probably won’t be one in yours either as you watch.
“The brain has a map of where all your body parts are. This started to be part of that,” Hawthorne says, gesturing at his hand. “So I’m not looking down at my hands and seeing oh, here’s my hand and here’s that weird plastic thing…it’s here’s my hand and here’s my other hand.”
Hawthorne is very involved in the process of making the 3D printed prosthetics and says he sees every one of them as a prototype, as they continue to improve with each one. It’s an unusually fast-paced research and development process, and the recipients are surely benefiting.
A perfect example of this fast pace—along with how amazing the open source dynamic is—occurred when Schull came up with a design for a prosthetic that was the beginning of a mechanism to allow the fingers to move more naturally, using line and offering contractions for different fingers. Schull merely published a sketch of this, and a high school student that very evening began working on a CAD design to make Schull’s design come to fruition. This student published his findings, and then two more engineers at e-NABLE refined the new hand design further, finally offering what is now a reinvented version of the ‘whippletree,’ a device created in the 19th century.
Now, thanks to that procession and evolution in open-source creativity and teamwork across the country, each Raptor prosthetic has a tensioner device within, encompassing a whippletree mechanism. That whole process took about three months, as opposed to many traditional workplaces and methods that would have meant a project like this consuming several years at least. At e-NABLE, improvements are instituted monthly.
Thanks to a community that is more focused on providing solutions rather than creating and quibbling over patents, children around the world who were very much in need are now wearing a variety of different 3D printed prosthetics. They are now able to hold silverware, grip video game controllers, use a pen or a pencil—and be the cool kid at school with the robot hand, rather than a self-conscious amputee with a bulky limb replacement.
“It’s clear that our key mission is to provide to access—not to protect treasure,” says Schull.
This documentary is currently being featured from June 27-June 30 at the Red Hat Summit, which is also being streamed live from their San Francisco event. Discuss further in the e-NABLE 3D Printed Prosthetics Documentary forum over at 3DPB.com.