Learn a little about the grassroots, open-source e-NABLE Community and our history!
enablingthefuture.org is the personal, privately-run website of Jennifer Owen. Jen is the sole owner of the website and it does not represent any other organization or individual. She has been a volunteer and participant in the field of open-source, 3D printed prosthetic hands for the past 3 years. Along the way, she has sought to highlight and document stories on the topic of low-cost prosthetics from around the world, as well as to create an information resource for people interested in learning more about the history, design & fabrication of these devices.
If you would like to learn more about the history of the field of 3D printable, open source prosthetics, please read below!
The e-NABLE Community is an amazing group of individuals from all over the world who are using their 3D printers to create free 3D printed hands and arms for those in need of an upper limb assistive device.
They are people who have put aside their political, religious, cultural and personal differences – to come together and collaborate on ways to help improve the open source 3D printable designs for hands and arms for those who were born missing fingers or who have lost them due to war, disease or natural disaster.
The e-NABLE Community is made up of teachers, students, engineers, scientists, medical professionals, tinkerers, designers, parents, children, scout troops, artists, philanthropists, dreamers, coders, makers and every day people who just want to make a difference and help to “Give The World A Helping Hand.”
For more on the history and continuing story of the e-NABLE Community – please see below!
In 2011, my husband Ivan Owen, created a crazy metal functional puppet hand to wear to our first ever steampunk convention. When we returned home from our adventure, he decided to post a short video of it on Youtube. Little did we know that one simple video clip would change our lives and thousands of others – forever.
A simple Youtube video of the hand, led to an email from a carpenter named Richard from South Africa,who had lost his fingers in a woodworking accident and a collaboration across 10,000 miles to create a replacement finger for him that lasted nearly a year. They worked through various prototypes and designs via skype and email, using objects they could both find around their homes and respective countries.
This ultimately led to a mother of a 5 year old boy contacting them to see about the creation of a tiny version of this hand for a little boy named Liam who lives in South Africa who was born with no fingers on his right hand.
Ivan started researching prosthetic devices and stumbled upon the story of Corporal Coles hand. It was created in the early 1800’s by an Australian dentist named Dr. Robert Norman who constructed it from whale bone, cables and pulleys. This one hand, created over a 100 years prior, inspired the design of what is now the building block for every e-NABLE Community 3D printed hand.
After creating the first prototype for Liam, Ivan realized that he would quickly outgrow the hand and started researching the use of 3D printing to create the next version. He taught himself how to use 3D printer design software and contacted a 3D printer company that donated 2 3D printers so they could work on creating a stronger and more functional design for him.
Together, they created the first 3D printed mechanical hand.
Instead of patenting the design for this new hand and making a profit, Ivan decided to publish the design files as open-source and public domain, so that not only could Liam have a hand, but so that people could download and print these devices for anyone that needed one too – anywhere in the world. In January 2013, the files went live on Thingiverse in their clunky, chunky, “Frankenhand” style and all we could do was hope that a more experienced designer would find them and take them and improve them and re-share…and boy did they ever!
In July of 2013, Jon Schull, a professor at RIT, came upon a video featuring Liam using his newest 3D printed hand and noticed that people were leaving comments and offering up their own 3D printers to help make hands for people who might need them . He decided to see what would happen if he went and started a Google+ group and created a map for makers to share their locations so that people who were seeking a hand could find the closest volunteer. He left a comment on the video and invited people to join him and put themselves on the map.
The e-NABLE Community started with around 100 or so people who were simply offering to print the files that were already in existence and a handful of devices had been made..and then something beautiful started happening…designers started joining and doing exactly what Ivan had hoped they would…..they started innovating….collaborating and re-sharing the improved design files back out into the universe! It was incredible!
Within that first year – the e-NABLE community grew from 100 members to over 3000. They created over 750 hands for people around the world.
Within another year – they have more than doubled to nearly 7000 members and approximately 2000 devices created and gifted to individuals in over 45 countries.
All of these 3D printed hands and arms were free to the end user thanks to the incredible volunteers in our community.
As the community of makers began to grow, I decided to start a blog about this project to document the designs as they changed and morphed into better and more functional versions. Makers were joining the community by the hundreds every week and sharing and re-sharing their ideas and new files. More and more children were getting helped as we began a matching process that would connect a recipient to a maker willing to print and assemble a device for them.
After a while, my blog was no longer just a place to share the stories of the community, but it has morphed into a repository of “how to” tutorials, free 3d printable hand designs, support information, forums for those seeking advice, information for parents of children in need of a device, help for teachers who want to inspire their students and create service learning projects, a centralized calendar so people can meet our volunteers and get help in person at events, and so much more.
This is where families find hope for their children. Where children and adults who are born missing fingers or who have lost them due to war, disease or natural disaster – can come to find stories of other people who have upper limb differences and who are using 3D printed devices that can help them with daily tasks that are easier to perform with 2 fully functional hands.
This is where volunteers come to find out how they can join the global community and use their 3D printers to make a difference in the life of a child who wants nothing more than to be able to ride their bike and hold on to both of their handlebars at the same time or have a “Superhero hand” to make them the “cool kid” in class instead of the child that gets teased or bullied because their hand is different.
This website is where I share personal stories so that people who read it can feel the love that is still out there in this world.
This is a place where people can find stories of hope and be reminded that there are still good people in the world who are putting their religious, political, cultural and personal beliefs aside to work together to use new technology to change the lives of thousands of people all over the earth.
It is incredible to think that a simple prop mechanical hand was the catalyst for what is now a global movement and a community of makers, tinkerers, artists, designers, humanitarians, teachers, parents, children, engineers, occupational therapists, medical professionals, philanthropists, inventors and every day people who are using their 3D printers and design skills to create free 3D printed hands and arms for those who need them.
You never know where your ideas and imagination will take you!
There are random strangers creating hands for children they will never meet.
There are teachers helping school children to learn to build hands for other children and inspiring them to turn around and use these experiences to find ways to change the world in other ways.
There are parents creating devices for their own children.
There are people reaching out into their communities and helping people in places where medical care is hard to find and owning a traditional prosthetic device is nothing but a dream.
There are children who are learning to print, build and assemble their very own hands.
We are not simply writing the stories down and sharing them anymore – we are also connecting makers to families, answering questions and emails and providing a place where the community can continue to gift these files and designs openly and freely.
Together, we can change the world.
“Now all the fingers of this tree (darling) have hands, and all the hands have people; and more each particular person is (my love) alive than every world can understand…” – E.E. Cummings