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The Tikkun Olam Makers Movement: Innovation for a Better World

Tikkun Olam Makers is a global non-partisan, non-profit movement that unites “need knowers” (people affected by disabilities) with volunteer “makers” such as industrial ­designers, ­engi­neers, hardware ­developers, ­coders, programmers, wood­workers and health professionals with the goal of developing assistive technology that addresses their specific needs. Founded by Arnon Zamir and Josh Gottesman of the Reut Group, it was granted $70,000 by Google last year.

Source: The Australian

What do cherry tomatoes, USB keys, e-readers and digital printing technology, drip irrigation,­antivirus software and Soda­Stream have in common? All are inventions from Israel, a country ranked number two for innovation according to the World Economic Forum’s 2016-17 Global Competitiveness Report. With more than 6000 active start-ups, entrepreneurs regularly praise the business culture of this buzzing hub as a collaborative and transparent one where “knowledge sharing is the norm”, says Nir Zohar of cloud-based web development platform “We think of competitors as colleagues.”

It’s this philosophy that’s at the core of Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM). ­

TOM runs as a 72-hour make­athon where inventors have modern tools such as laser cutters, 3D printers, metal cutters, grinders, soldering irons and lathe machining at their disposal. It’s been called the TedX of social action, structured similarly to the speaker ­series that is highly localised yet supported by the organisation’s framework. Branding and sponsors are provided but make­athons in each city are planned by the community, with both parties vetted before being paired.

Pre-TOM occurs a month before with offline communication leading up to the event.

Australian quad amputee Mandy McCracken, 43, had exhausted all ­options before approaching TOM to create a bike so she could ride with her children. It put her in touch with Melbourne-based mechanical engineer David Jennings and his group Team Re­Cycle. “A regular bike didn’t suit me,” McCracken says. “We had tried retrofitting, and a custom design can cost thousands. I ­researched extensively but just couldn’t find anything. TOM put together a team of engineers and designers with an appropriate skill set and three days later I had a ­bicycle.”

Increasing in popularity, modern hackathons run as marathon sessions where great minds pool talent to collaborate on new ideas. They have been held regularly over the past decade. Facebook is famous for its overnighters and hundreds run throughout Australia, ranging from Hackoffeethon (applying tech to bring about sustainable change to the coffee industry) to the coming ­Energy Hack that will unite academics, professionals and start-ups in seeking solutions to Australia’s energy problems. The first TOM was hosted in Nazareth in 2014 and is now active in 33 locations worldwide, with Queensland set to come in next month. Events have been held everywhere from Colombia to Vietnam, Bulgaria, Mexico, San Francisco and Kazakhstan, where students designed a full-body ­rehabilitative exoskeleton using readily available orthotics and which allowed a 40-year-old woman to walk ­unassisted for the first time in 15 years.

Other success stories ­include a “page turner” for a quadriplegic and intuitive software for the visually impaired to assess and recognise the surrounding environment with virtual audible cues.

Last year David Jennings and Team Re­Cycle were challenged to create the bicycle for Mandy McCracken. It included brakes functional by means other than hand operation (because of slow reaction times of prosthetic wrists) and was supplemented with an electric motor to reduce pedalling effort. “It needed to look normal and be a finished and presentable tricycle, not a rough prototype,” says Jennings. “It’s a challenge to try to design and develop the ­impossible in such a limited time frame but we had a great team and worked really well together, which helps. Mandy’s tricycle was a very large and complex mechanical ­device to be built in only 72 hours … (but) the adrenaline, time pressure and the posi­tivity you get from helping change someone’s life definitely helps keep you moti­vated and ­inspired.”

Other Australian inventions include TechNeck, a mountable robotic wheelchair headrest that pivots with the movement of the head to provide continuous lateral support, and crutches that convert into a seat for a cerebral palsy sufferer. For Stacey Christie, who has muscular dystrophy and uses an electric wheelchair, a portable wedge ramp was devised using biomechanics, helping her overcome inaccessible environments and travel more independently.

The Maker Movement isn’t a new phenomenon but grassroots communities of independent ­hobbyists, tinkerers, students and ­techies have become more prevalent as materials become increasingly accessible. An aversion to mass manufacture is at the heart of the international Maker Faire, launched in 2005. The biggest of its kind, it spotlights projects ­unavailable commercially.

TOM will be held in Melbourne in December at Swinburne University’s Advanced Technologies Centre (and) McCracken is working with TOM to develop a bottle-pouring device. “For me, as someone with two prosthetic hands, it’s very hard to pour a bottle,” she says.

McCracken is working with TOM to develop a bottle-pouring device. “For me, as someone with two prosthetic hands, it’s very hard to pour a bottle,” she says. “Anyone with cerebral palsy or anyone that needed a grip would benefit from it.” McCracken ­believes there is a market for such products but development is thwarted by ­financial limitations. “When I told some fellow quad amputees that I had a bike they were excited and desperate to get the plan so they could have one. There’s definitely a gap in the community but anyone building a custom tricycle would expect to be paid in return. The beauty of TOM is that volunteers are doing it from the love and kindness of their hearts.”

Everything at TOM is open-source and freely available to replicate under a creative commons licence. An open makers market will launch next March, enabling users to connect directly with original teams to download a DIY ­instruction kit with assisted adaptations and flexible derivatives. “When a user has a unique need or the product is too expensive, alternative options to create an affordable custom-made solution remain elusive,” says Rebecca Fuhrman, director of communications at TOM: Tikkun Olam ­Makers Global. “We have built a powerful model to address the market failure.”

According to the Australian Network on Disability, more than four million people live with some form of a disability in Australia alone. The World Health Organisation estimates 1.1 billion people live with disabilities worldwide, and many experience daily obstacles and financial burdens.

David Jennings says TOM fills a necessary gap in the market. “(TOM) is a great opportunity to develop products that would not normally be developed because the market is so small and not commercially ­attractive for companies. TOM enables people with disabilities to be heard.”

Tikkun Olam Makers takes place in Melbourne from December 1-3.