3D printers on wheels
By Kyle Bournes
It was a story that tugged at the heartstrings and captured national headlines.
In March, six-year-old Sebastian Chavarria, whose multiple congenital problems had left him with a partially deformed left hand, received a custom-made, “Iron Man”-themed prosthetic hand designed by two second-year uOttawa engineering students. The “Mark II” hand was printed out using 3D printers at uOttawa’s Makerspace facility.
Makerspace has been so popular — more than 1,500 people have used its 3D printers and scanners, laser cutters and Arduino microcontrollers — that the Faculty of Engineering now plans to expand its reach and launch uOttawa Maker Mobile, a Makerspace on wheels.
At Makerspace’s official opening, during uOttawa Entrepreneurship Week last November, organizers threw down the gauntlet in the form of the Makerspace Prosthetic Challenge, calling on contestants to create a new prosthetic hand for Sebastian. A commercial hand would have cost his family $20,000 a year. He had received a 3D-printed prosthetic hand fromEnabling the Future, a worldwide movement of people of various professional backgrounds that provides prosthetic devices or helps others make them. However, the hand needed customization and Sebastian’s parents worried that he would soon outgrow it.
The Makerspace held regular workshops to guide the 73 registered teams throughout the competition and provided access to 3D printers and filaments. Sebastian himself chose the winning hand, created by Robert Rayson and Shannon Lee, who were awarded a $1,000 prize. The runner-up, Ruben Fernandez, also received a $1,000 prize, as his creation had a number of features that Sebastian loved. His father, Enrique, was very happy for his young Iron Man. He says that thanks to 3D printing, time rather than cost is now the main consideration in acquiring a new prosthetic hand. Conventional prosthetics can cost as much as a new car whereas a 3D-printed prosthetic can be made for $20 to $50. Plus, as Enrique says, “There’s a cool factor … he gets a functioning hand and it looks robotic, making him feel like a super hero.”
Now, the student-run organization Adventures in Engineering and Science and the Makerspace are collaborating to expand the Faculty of Engineering’s outreach programs and provide schools and communities with Makerspace tools and technologies. Led by a team of engineering and computer science students, the uOttawa Maker Mobile will travel full-time starting in September with equipment such as 3D printers and scanners, laser cutters and Arduino microcontrollers. It will deliver fun hands-on learning activities using the latest technologies to schools, libraries and community centres across the region, complementing the school curriculum. People will even be able to book the uOttawa Maker Mobile for birthday parties. Sure beats those clowns and magicians. Imagine kids 3D-printing their own loot bag toys to take home from a party.
Clearly, the maker movement is on a roll at uOttawa. Makerspace, which began operations with little fanfare last September before its official opening, has rapidly become a campus hotspot where anyone can come to let their creativity loose. An article in the September issue of Tabaret, “Ready? Set! Create!” discussed the Makerspace’s potential. It’s like the Field of Dreams — “If you build it they will come” —and it’s attracting droves.
Indeed, Makerspace has spawned a new sub-culture, bringing makers from all backgrounds on campus and around the National Capital Region together to create and, in many cases, change peoples’ lives in the process.
The Maker Mobile project will include a full time outreach team that the Faculty of Engineering can assign to deliver recruitment initiatives and outreach programs. As engineering professor Hanan Anis says, “We’d like to see children run out to the uOttawa Maker Mobile with the same enthusiasm as they would run after an ice cream truck driving through their neighbourhood.”
Stay tuned for more on the uOttawa Maker Mobile and look for it near you in the fall!
From left: Hamza Shafique, Kanwal Bhatia, Junyi Dai and Onkar Chander. Photo: Bonnie Findley