Project Daniel: Using 3D printing to make prosthetic arms (and a better world)

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, I was bombarded with presentations about lavish, new technologies like self-driving cars, thief-deterring iPhone cases and computers with dual operating systems.

But one story stuck in my mind even after the presentation was over, one that perfectly demonstrates how technology can help the world become a better place.

It’s called Project Daniel.

Daniel Omar, a 16-year-old from South Sudan, lost both his arms in a blast in the midst of the region’s ongoing conflict. The injuries left him unable to feed himself. Unfortunately, Daniel’s injuries aren’t rare. Roughly 50,000 South Sudanese people have lost limbs since the conflict began. Manufacturing and accessing prosthetics has been mostly impossible.

Mick Ebeling, the CEO and co-founder of Not Impossible Labs, first read about Daniel in a Time magazine story. In that story, Daniel confessed he would have rather died than be a burden on his family.

Not Impossible Labs uses crowd-sourced thinking to co-create tools to overcome previously insurmountable healthcare obstacles. The organization then makes these low-cost solutions available on an open-source, DIY platform, ensuring all kinds of people from across the globe can access them.

Each of the organization’s projects focuses on one person, and how by helping that one person, he or she can go on to help others. Their motto is: “Help one. Help many.”

Eager to help Daniel, Ebeling set up a 3D printing lab in a hospital in the Nuba Mountains near the teenager’s home late last year. Together with U.S. surgeon Dr. Tom Catena, Ebeling printed a prosthetic arm for Daniel. Intel contributed funding and gear for the project.

“It’s never about just one person,” Ebeling explains in a video about the project. “If we could teach the locals to do it themselves, the project could live long after we left.”

Although the region still grapples with growing strife, local citizens continue to print prosthetic limbs on their own. The prosthetics are simple and affordable, and allow amputees to perform basic movements. Ebeling hopes to keep improving the design.

As the presentation ended I sat still, feeling stunned. I had just watched one person do something amazing with technology that didn’t even exist five years ago.

It wasn’t about the money or the fame. It was about improving the lives of those who need it most.

What would happen if we all did this?

Shawn Freeman
Shawn Freeman
I’m Shawn Freeman, an entrepreneur, personable geek and founder of IT services company TWT Group. I’ve worked on big and small tech projects, and have never let the corporate ladder dictate my path to doing what I love. I’m passionate about cloud computing and data security, and like to share my ideas in and on the TWT blog. IT should be the easiest part of your day. I’m passionate about exceptional IT services and being better, faster and more affordable than the big guys. TWT Group works with partners in oil and gas, accounting, agriculture and more across western Canada. Want to hear more? Email me at [email protected].

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