The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 285 million people are visually impaired worldwide. 70 million people need a wheelchair. Another 360 million people globally have moderate to profound hearing loss. Globally, more than 1 billion people need one or more assistive products.
The global elderly and disabled assistive devices market was valued at $14 billion in 2015 and is expected to surpass $26 billion by 2024, according to Coherent Market Insights. It is a sizable market with an incredibly diverse set of needs. Many products have to be customized which is why 3D printing is an ideal way to study and solve some of it.
MatterHackers, one of the largest 3D printing retailers in the U.S., wants to put a big dent in those numbers by encouraging inspiring, low-cost or free, assistive device models that people can 3D print or build from some other material. Officially, the “Envision The Future Design Challenge” is to create educational tactile models and assistive devices for the blind and visually impaired.
WHO defines assistive technology as any product that helps maintain or improve an individual function. Hearing aids, wheelchairs, eyeglasses, prostheses, pill organizers, and memory aids are all examples of assistive devices or products. You do not have to go far in 3D printing circles to find solutions or at least potential ideas to solve these sorts of problems or issues — and I have written about many of them — from custom insoles (orthotics) to hearing aids to haptic feedback in a glove (one of my very first posts over 5 years ago).
With an aging global population and a rise in noncommunicable diseases, more than 2 billion people will need at least 1 assistive product by 2050, with many older people needing 2 or more, according to a WHO assistive device fact sheet.
Last year, MatterHackers, enablingthefuture.org, and Pinshape partnered the company sponsored a design challenge aimed for assistive devices for people living without full use of their hands. Over 200 designs were submitted and are available for free at www.matterhackers.com/withinreach. I wrote about one of the successful devices in another post last year (not on Forbes) that helped a person who had Dupuytren’s contracture, which affects the hands by drawing the fingers inward, making it hard to grip everyday items. The Within Reach design challenge yielded a number of solutions for that and other ailments.
One of the more famous assistive device designs, not part of the MatterHackers design challenge, comes from the e-NABLE Community: the “Iron Man” video tells the story of Robert Downey Jr. giving an Ironman prosthetic hand to a child. Awesome video. That design was developed by the UCF Armory (University of Central Florida), led by Albert Manero, the Limbitless Arm was e-NABLE’s first myoelectric design. The Limbitless Arm is licensed under the Creative Commons-Attribution-Non-Commercial license. Success stories like these inspire more people to realize how accessible 3D technology is making incremental and exponential improvements possible — that you might have an idea that could change the world for you or someone else.
Written by TJ McCue
Originally published 3/21/17 in Forbes.com
Photo from MatterHackers Envision the Future Design Challenge