True Crowd Power

Tomorrow night, the MakerSpot is hosting a community hand assembly. (Technically, that's a "community hand assembly assembly," as people are assembling there to assemble hands, but I thought that might sound confusing.) The attendees are going to put together E-nable Phoenix hands, which will be sent to kids who need them.

An E-nable Raptor hand.

Unfamiliar with E-nable? This organization is one of the best reasons to own a 3D printer. The folks at E-nable have created a variety of designs for functional, 3D-printed prosthetic hands. A person with a printer can produce all the parts needed for just a few dollars' worth of plastic, assemble a hand with just a couple more bucks in hardware, then send it to E-nable's volunteer coordinators. The hand is matched up to a child with the particular physical "configuration" to use that hand, and a health professional helps the child learn to use the hand.

Keep in mind -- unwieldy, low-function prosthetic limbs used to cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, and they made you look like something from a horror movie. E-nable hands provide excellent functionality*, and the psychological impact on kids is amazing. They go from being "the kid with no hand" to "the kid with that awesome Iron Man-looking hand!"

My daughter and I have assembled two of these ourselves, but let's get back to the MakerSpot -- their event is going to produce far more hands, in a far shorter time, by simply enlisting the power of the crowd. First, parts are printed ahead of time. All three printers at the MakerSpot have been spinning away madly for a while, and my own printer is spitting out more pieces while I write this blog on the other side of the office. I'm not sure how many other volunteers are printing at home right now, but in a day one person at home can easily produce enough parts for three, four, or even more hands.

The assembly event ensures that the work gets done. Though the cost is low, putting the parts together can be a bit painstaking** and the group effort helps. People with different skills, working in a coordinated manner, make the process far quicker. And, of course, the camaraderie of the group generates synergy that keeps everyone eager to do more.*** 

The MakerSpot provides two things crucial for a project like this. First, they set up the entire event: materials, tools, instructions, venue. That's the MakerSpot in general; it's a place where you can use equipment you probably don't have at home, and can find expertise to expand your own knowledge.

But more importantly, the MakerSpot is providing leadership. Giving people access to a 3D printer is nice. Offering classes to teach 3D printing is excellent. But motivating people to come together at a specific time, work together, and produce something that benefits another individual or the rest of society -- that's something truly special. Our community (and many people outside our community) are truly fortunate to have the leadership offered by the staff and volunteers of the North Richland Hills Library in general, and the MakerSpot in particular.

* Think I'm kidding about how functional these are? Watch this video.

** Especially if your fine motor skills are as lacking as mine. For me, threading the tension wires and making small adjustments is like playing "Flight of the Bumblebee" while hanging upside down from a trapeze.

*** That's why I do this kind of stuff with my daughters. They still think Dad's cool, which is a big morale boost. ;)