Poem linked from Slate
Seeking peace

On Project Daniel, 3D printing, and hope

Over coffee this morning, my friend Colin showed me a video which I found pretty extraordinary. It's about an endeavor called Project Daniel:

The video isn't new, but it was new to me. Here's how the project's creators describe it:

Just before Thanksgiving 2013, Mick Ebeling returned home from Sudan's Nuba Mountains where he set up what is probably the world's first 3D-printing prosthetic lab and training facility. More to the point of the journey is that Mick managed to give hope and independence back to a kid who, at age 14, had both his arms blown off and considered his life not worth living.

I'd heard about 3D printing, but I'd never actually seen a 3D printer in action, or seen the kinds of things one can create. In my mind, 3D printing was more or less the stuff of science fiction -- Rule 34 by Charles Stross, or Maker Space by KB Spangler. But as this video demonstrates, this technology is very real -- and while I'm sure it's being used for a lot of delightfully silly purposes, it can also be turned to really meaningful forms of service.

Just prior to the trip, the now 16-year-old Daniel was located in a 70,000 person refugee camp in Yida, and, on 11/11/13 , he received version 1 of his left arm. The Daniel Hand enabled him to feed himself for the first time in two years... After Daniel had his own “hand,” with the help of Dr. Tom Catena, the team set about teaching others to print and assemble 3D prostheses. By the time the team returned to their homes in the U.S., the local trainees had successfully printed and fitted another two arms.

I don't want to glorify the "white savior swoops into Africa" narrative. An uncountable number of extraordinary things are done by Africans, in Africa, all the time, though they aren't often reported in American news media. (Take, for instance, the story of William Kamkwamba and his windmill.) But what's remarkable about this story to me isn't Mick Ebeling per se, but the fact of a technology which can create functional prosthetic limbs cheaply, and the look of joy on Daniel's face when he holds a spoon in his new hand and lifts it to his mouth without aid.

It turns out this kind of thing is happening here in the States, too. E-nabling the Future is "a network of passionate volunteers using 3D printing to give the World a 'Helping Hand.'" They design 3D-printable prosthetic limbs and make the designs available under Creative Commons:

We are engineers, artists, makers, students, parents, occupational therapists, prosthetists, garage tinkerers, designers, teachers, creatives, philanthropists, writers and many others – who are devoting our “Free time” to the creation of open source designs for mechanical hand assistive devices that can be downloaded and 3D printed for less than $50 in materials.

Our designs are open source – so that anyone, anywhere – can download and create these hands for people who may need them and so that others can take these designs and improve upon them and once again share with the World in a “Pay it Forward” type of way.

People are using this technology to make new limbs for toddlers, and new hands for veterans. And because the designs are available online as open-source materials, freely available for use and for remix, they're available for anyone who needs them.

At a moment in time when there's so much tragedy and trauma in the world -- Syria, Israel and Gaza, Ferguson, the list goes on and on -- I'm grateful to be reminded that there are people in the world who are giving their time and energy to help others, and to make the world a kinder and more functional place.