Ideally, with age comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes the realization that our bodies are no longer as durable and capable as they were in youth. Given enough time, the body can begin to experience difficulty accomplishing simple tasks like typing, writing or opening containers.
Japanese Designer Tatsuo Ishibashi, aware of these issues, has focused on creating 3D printed products to assist the elderly and people who suffer from diminished physical functions. His Shapeways shop, mizulabo, includes a set of specialized tools he calls “assistive technology.” The designs are simple, relatively lightweight and low cost solutions to a variety of challenges faced by the elderly and those in need of a mechanical advantage.
His designs, done in 123d Design from Autodesk, can be printed directly from his Shapeways shop.
One of the tools, a 3D printed tool for assisting people to write with a ballpoint pen, helps compensate for muscle weakness in the hand by positioning a Zebra New Hard BN-5200 ballpoint pen in a “chuck” designed on the device. By providing a pair of solid mount points for the index and middle fingers the device translates and amplifies the rotation of the wrist and helps people write with a ballpoint pen.
Ishibashi’s “Higaki” device is a tool to help users remove caps and tabs from a plastic bottle and a cans by once again providing a simple mechanical advantage.
Ishibashi says using 3D printing to build devices like his is rare, but calls it “a very effective tool which develops assistive devices.” He says the prototyping capability of the process will ultimately make it possible to take such products into mass production by speeding and refining the design process. He adds that the ubiquity of 3D printers now makes it possible to output products locally with little more than a data exchange.
His “Ampersand” is an opener for removing caps or tabs from bottles or cans, and unlike ordinary openers, the designer says the tool is ideal for elderly or those who suffer from muscle weakness. The unique shape of the “Ampersand” derives from the shape of the tool, and he adds that it integrates three functions.
“We aim at ‘simple and functional’ design,” Ishibashi says. “Being simple leads to light weight, low cost and easy handling, but it is difficult to simplify functional things. We (focus) on design and engineering.”
According to Ishibashi, a tool like his Finger Input Device is a perfect example of how a problem can be solved with intelligent design and 3D printing. The simple device is made to aid users in tapping out their messages on a PC keyboard or remote control.
And Ishibashi is just one of a group of designers and thinkers working on such problems.
Matt Burdis, a product design student at the University of Nottingham, has also designed a pair of prototype kitchen knives for elderly or arthritic patients. His knives feature thick handles that make them easier to grip and hold, and the bread knife and a paring knife were specifically designed for the elderly and those with conditions such as arthritis.
The designs came following the collection of feedback from several focus groups who tested foam mock-ups of the knives.
Have you seen examples of functional and attractive 3D printed tools? Let us know in the 3D Printed Assistive Technologies forum thread on 3DPB.com.