Using the Power of Makers and 3D Printing to Help Veterans

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The Prosthetics and Assistive Technology Challenge series event will take place July 28-29 in Richmond, Virginia, and the two-day event gives designers from the general public the opportunity to transform lives by improving the quality of life for veterans through the creation of personalized, tailored 3D printed devices.

Imagine that suddenly, you’ve lost the ability to use your phone, a computer, a microwave. Or try to imagine that you were suddenly unable to practice your favorite hobby.

It’s challenges such as these which led the Department of Veterans Affairs to hosting the first VA Innovation Creation Series for Prosthetics and Assistive Technologies, and we’ve been looking forward to following up on their advances as the challenge kicks off.

It’s an initiative aimed at getting engineers, designers, and problem solvers together to tackle a list of challenge areas facing veterans. The initiative hopes to build solutions using platforms like Innocentive and GrabCAD to harness the expertise, skills, and passion of the public to solve a series of problems.

vaciLogoThe challenge hopes to take on projects like developing novel upper and lower extremity devices for the daily-use prostheses, creating a medication pillbox that can contain medications and remind users when to take their dose, creating a device to dampen tremors when someone is performing fine motor tasks, designing a device to remotely change the speed – and grip strength – of a prosthetic device for veterans with upper extremity injuries, and creating a way to reassign motions and buttons on gaming controllers to provide access to veterans and letting them be repurposed to improve eye hand coordination, fine motor control, and the range of motion.

At its core, the challenges are a call for input from the Maker community for technologies which can harness the potential of 3D printing to design 3D objects to meet the unique needs of patients.

The program was launched in May at the VA Palo Alto Healthcare System, then headed to the National Maker Faire in Washington, D.C. in mid-June where designers, engineers, and problem solvers presented their initial design solutions.

Now the series will culminate in a two-day “make-a-thon” event at Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, VA on July 28 and 29. The online designs will be built and tested to showcase how they meet the needs of Veterans and respond to the challenge.

“The collaboration with Stratasys is critical to accelerate the development of personalized assistive technologies and prosthetics for differently-abled Veterans. At this event, we can co-create and build designs based on each Veteran’s unique needs and obtain their feedback in a very agile, tailored pathway,” said Andrea Ippolito, presidential innovation fellow for the VA.

As part of the event, Stratasys is providing 14 3D printers and production systems – and a group of engineers –  to work with design teams during the duration of the design challenge. The machines provided include six uPrint, three Fortus 250mc, three Mojo, one Fortus 450mc, and one MakerBot.

The designs for the event were submitted through Stratasys’ open-sourced collaboration platform, GrabCAD.

Michael Gaisford, the marketing program director for medical solutions at Stratasys, said his company is proud of their collaboration with the VA.

“This event is an ideal application of 3D printing to innovate designs to create custom, personalized devices that couldn’t have been made with traditional manufacturing,” Gaisford says. “Stratasys is enabling prosthetics, orthotics, and assistive devices where one can affordably go from scan to design to print in a digital-only environment.”

The prosthetic legs of a Paralympic Military Sports Camp participant frame U.S. Navy volunteers at Balboa Naval Medical Center in San Diego, Calif., Oct. 5, 2010. Paralympic Military Sports Camps are multi-day events designed to introduce veterans and military personnel with physical injuries to summer and winter sport opportunities. (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Travis K. Mendoza, U.S. Navy/Released)

Stratasys worked with veteran Kim Matthews, a sufferer of essential hand tremor, as part of the initiative.

“When looking at the designs, I was actually in tears over the thought of all of these wonderful people going out of their way to help,” Matthews said. “I was a bit overwhelmed and in awe of them; not only the intelligence that they possess, but all the hard work they are putting into this for us. Part of me felt like a kid at Christmas filled with happiness thinking that for once I could feel normal like others who do not have this disability.”

If you’d like to see more about the Prosthetics and Assistive Technology Challenge, you can visit the group’s website here.

 

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