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Makerspace kick-off launches with prosthetic design contest

Photos: Marta Kierkus. 

The Faculty of Engineering has challenged the University of Ottawa community to put their fingerprints to good use to help a six-year-old boy in need of a prosthetic limb.

During the official launch of the uOttawa Makerspace on Nov. 20, the student-run engineering and design hub launched a competition to create a 3D-printed hand for the boy, named Sebastian Chavarria. The contest will continue until March when he’ll pick his favourite design.

Lety Chavarria, Sebastian’s mother, spoke about the many difficulties faced by children who need prosthetics.

“Children grow so much every year, no one would be able to afford that many prosthetic limbs if they all cost $20,000,” she said. “With these printers, we can allow him to have (the) use of the hand now, so he can play sports, and do other things all children should be able to do.”

Nemanja Babic, a third-year biomedical engineering student, demonstrated how to design a prosthetic hand during the launch, and explained how 3D printing will change the development of prosthetics.

“In the past, prosthetics were more for the aesthetic appeal,” he said. “They didn’t really serve a purpose except for appearances. Now we can build hands that have at least some of the functions of a hand, they can grab and lift things.”

The makerspace, which has been open since September, is free for those in the U of O community to use throughout the week, and for the greater Ottawa community on Sundays. In addition to 3D printers, the facility has a wide range of equipment to cater to any innovative ambitions.

“I was always a fan of the DIY, ‘do-it-yourself,’ or the maker movement, which is rapidly growing,” said Omar Dowidar, one of the makerspace’s student coordinators.

Dowidar said he hopes the makerspace will inspire similar enthusiasm for innovation in other students.

“Our main goals were not just for students to gain access to expensive tools, but more about learning how to turn raw ideas into prototypes that can be tested, refined, and improved through feedback,” said Dowidar.

Dowidar said the launch was a “huge success” with a turnout of more than 300 students, faculty members, and community members.

The launch was part of Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW), the “largest celebration of the innovators and job creators who launch startups that bring ideas to life, drive economic growth, and expand human welfare,” according to the GEW website.

The U of O has put forth a variety of services in recent years to support student startups, including Startup Garage and the newly-minted Entrepreneurship Hub.

The Ontario government has also taken notice of young entrepreneurs, having recently made a $2-million investment in Ottawa’s four post-secondary institutions.

Looking ahead, the engineering students hope to expand the capacity of the makerspace by acquiring more equipment and expanding operations so they reach more students, said Dowidar.

He also said they hope to create more cross-disciplinary projects, “for example, engineering students may get ideas from watching artists work out solutions.”

“Essentially, more collaborations are more likely to happen with the challenges and competitions planned for the space.”