Using technology to help kids in need
A unique teaching program is taking place in Panama in which high school students design and make prosthetic devices for kids. Implementing the latest in technology, students are applying classroom-learned skills while helping others. All of this is taking place at Knightsbridge Schools International located in Panama-Pacifico. Technology Teacher, Mickey Keats, administers the class.
The class, and the unique curriculum it offers, is the result of Knightsbridge participating in the e-NABLE Project, little over a year old, in which volunteers use 3D printers to create prosthetic devices for kids in need, at no cost to the recipient.
The high cost of traditional prosthetic devices has left children in need of them to face a tough question. Is incurring such a cost worth it for a device that they will quickly outgrow? Recent developments in 3D printing technology have not just rendered that question moot. They are causing a global revolution.
Mickey explains: “The class makes accurate measurements from photos sent in from all around the world.” These hi-resolution images of children missing appendages are taken with control measurements laid out in the picture. The students use a program to custom-design a device based on the person’s own proportions.
The measurements are sent to the States where they are processed into a software format necessary to print the hand. “For less than $50, we can give a child a prosthetic hand capable of holding and grasping things. It’s amazing,” said Mr. Keats.
Knightsbridge is the first organization in Panama to embrace this program. Their efforts are supported by Ariel Yahni and his company, Makerz (TheMakerz.com), a 3D printing shop located on Avenida Balboa. “They are the ones supporting this operation. In addition to selling the printers, they allow people to go in arrange for time to print,” said Mickey.
The printing, while revolutionary, is a relatively straightforward process. First, a program file is placed in the printer. A spool of plastic filament begins to feed through a hose while an extruder heats it up. The printer lays down one layer at a time, and “from nothing, you’ll start to see something form,” said Mr. Keats. In less than 13 minutes, the machine printed a part of a finger. More complex parts can take several hours.
Thus far, Knightsbridge students have helped over 30 persons in need around the world, people they will never meet. Mr. Keats hopes to get the word out here in town. “We haven’t had to print hands yet because we haven’t had any folks in the program from Panama,” explains Mickey.
The school has ambitious plans to be a “funnel” connecting supply and demand. The school’s staff of physical therapists is ready to help train local recipients on how to use their new limbs. Mr. Keats is reaching out to doctors and organizations throughout the country.
“To make everything perfectly and to not make mistakes is our biggest challenge,” said Lisa, a 14 year old in the 8th grade who has been an enthusiastic participant in the project. “I don’t find it difficult, though; it’s really interesting.”