3D printing has been around for a while, but the global development community is only recently exploring how it can be used for social change. From printing low-cost prosthetics to providing basic supplies after a disaster, 3D printing’s potential to benefit society is undeniable. These were the kind of topics we set out to explore with participants from 10 different countries in TechChange’s first 3D Printing for Social Good online course.

We started the course with a deep dive into 3D printing, examining how it works, how it can be used, and the tech ecosystem in which it exists. We enlisted the help of guest experts like Jeremy Simon of 3D Universe and Colin McCormick, who brought us a live 3D printing demo. Course participants also had the opportunity to learn more about free CAD tools and practice creating digital 3D models of objects, as well as find a makerspace or Fab Lab near them.

Then we examined how 3D printing is being used for social good through the work of e-NABLE, techfortrade, and Field Ready, and course participants had the opportunity to interact with key stakeholders in each organization. Based on the insights from our sessions with e-NABLE’s founder Jon Schull, Matthew Rogge of techfortrade, and co-founder of Field Ready, Dara Dotz, participants discussed the potential for adapting the models of these organizations to create change in their own contexts.

Finally, we focused on the challenges and opportunities in 3D printing for social good. In particular, we learned how 3D printing fits into the larger Maker Movement and explored how the methods, mindsets, and tools adopted by the Maker Movement could be leveraged for social good with the help of guest experts Robert Ryan-Silva of DAI Maker Lab and Kate Gage of USAID Global Development Lab.

Here’s a recap of our guest expert sessions:

  • Gabriel Krieshok of the US Peace Corps spoke from his experience implementing technology solutions and shared his excitement about the potential that 3D printing holds for underserved populations living in low-resource settings.
  • Jeremy Simon of 3D Universe shared his experience with a variety of 3D printing technologies and demonstrated the power of 3D printing on a personal level by discussing projects he has worked on with his family and the e-NABLE community.

Sara and Colin, during the 3D printing demo

  • Colin McCormick brought us a live 3D printing demo, walking us through the process of finding, modifying and printing an object from a digital 3D model he found online. In addition, he described his experience building a 3D printer from a DIY kit.
  • Matthew Rogge of techfortrade explained the work that he’s doing in Latin America with ethical filament, and in East Africa with 3D printers made from e-waste. Through both of these projects, techfortrade is using locally-sourced materials that are available in abundance to improve livelihoods and increase access to 3D printing technology.
  • Jon Schull, founder of e-NABLE, provided insight into e-NABLE’s crowdsourced model for providing low-cost prosthetic devices to people in need, and the future of the e-NABLE Community Foundation.
  • Dara Dotz, co-founder of Field Ready spoke about her experience 3D printing in extreme environments, from implementing Field Ready’s pilot program to 3D printing medical supplies in Haiti, to designing a 3D printer used in the International Space Station with ‘Made in Space’. Dara demonstrated how 3D printing can disrupt the supply chain in both extremes by dramatically reducing costs and the time it takes to access or produce parts; recycling, reusing and reprinting parts; and prototyping and producing tools from waste.
  • Robert Ryan-Silva of DAI Maker Lab talked about how increasing access to maker tools, such as 3D printing, CNC tools, and electronic building blocks, can help people create, champion, and iterate upon solutions that meet their needs, in their own context.
  • Kate Gage of the USAID Global Development Lab provided examples of innovative solutions that have come out of the Maker Movement. She also stressed the need to create pathways that help makers apply their skills to some of the world’s greatest challenges and create viable, human-centered solutions.

While all the developments in the field of 3D printing are exciting, it is important to understand that implementing 3D printing technology in low-resource settings comes with a few challenges. Limitations like slow print speed, the resilience of 3D printed objects and 3D printers themselves, and access to resources like filament and a steady power supply to complete a 3D print job are important realities to consider when taking 3D printing to low-resource settings.

3D printing technology is advancing at a rapid pace to address some of these limitations. Far greater than the challenges inherent in 3D printing, conversations with guest experts and among course participants, as well as the projects highlighted in this course, have demonstrated the potential that 3D printing holds for social good- from improving healthcare delivery, to creating breakthroughs that can contribute to sustainable global development.

Who are the other players using 3D printing for social good? Or if you own a 3D printer, what are you using it for? Comment below or tweet at us @TechChange

About author

Sara-300x300 2
Sara Pitcairn is Co-Director of Instructional Design at TechChange, where she works with clients to develop and design custom online learningexperiences , ranging from webinar series to facilitated and on-demand courses. She is also the facilitator for TechChange’s 3D Printing for Social Good course. Prior to TechChange, Sara taught middle and high school STEM courses at the Barrie School, where she also led an Engineering Product Design program for high school students. Sara graduated from Yale University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, which sparked her passion for design thinking and human-centered design. In her spare time, Sara enjoys reading, traveling, and perfecting her guacamole recipe.

When I hear the term “artificial intelligence”, my first thoughts go to HAL9000 and Data from Star Trek before settling on some vague notion about the Turing test. Clearly I’m not a computer scientist.

While reading Patrick Meier’s book, I realized that I had missed out on a wide range of advances in the field of machine learning, some of which also fall under “artificial intelligence”, which can help us make sense of the onslaught of information that we are faced with whenever a disaster strikes.

When the crowd gets overwhelmed

While nothing can beat the collective intelligence of a sufficiently large group of people that focus their energy on processing a lot of data, the problem with this type of crowdsourcing is that you need a very large group of people – and volunteers are a scarce resource.

Projects like Artificial Intelligence for Disaster Response (AIDR) from the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) are striving to make better use of the volunteer’s time. To do this, the AIDR algorithm is basically looking over the volunteers’ shoulders while they are processing a small amount of data. The machine learns from every decision, until it understands the patterns well enough to process the data itself. Datasets it is unsure about are returned to the volunteers for review and their decisions then improve the algorithm further. According to QCRI, the algorithm frequently reaches confidence levels of over 80 per cent, meaning that huge amounts of data can be analysed in a fraction of the time it would take volunteers.

You can test AIDR for free one the project’s website. If you want to know more, take a look at the video below.

Image analysis

The EU’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) as well DigitalGlobe, a company that provides satellite imagery and analysis, go even further: they are training their algorithms to interpret images. The JRC algorithm for example is already able to detect rubble for damage assessments in a city after an earthquake with up to 92% confidence, while DigitalGlobe is asking the crowd to teach its software how to recognize buildings on satellite photos. That information will no doubt be used to improve the company’s commercial products, but it is also being used to help fight malaria in Swaziland by providing aid organizations with a better idea of population density. This in turn can help program managers make decisions about where to commit the most resources.

You can support the malaria project through DigitalGlobe’s Tomnod platform here.

Another example, where this type of automatic population density data would have been useful, is the Ebola response, where population data had to be estimated manually, based on houses that first had to be mapped by OpenStreetMap volunteers. An algorithm that can automatically identify homes would have been much faster.

What I find amazing is that these tools are already working and available today. And while there are definitely still ways to improve them and bugs to work out, they make me very optimistic for the very near future of information management and needs assessment in disaster response.

What do you think about the role of artificial intelligence in disaster response? Comment below or tweet at us @TechChange. This post originally appeared on Social Media 4 Good.

If you are interested in learning about technologies like artificial intelligence that are helping in disaster response, join us in our upcoming online course Technology for Disaster Response” which starts on 22 June.

About author

Timo Luege

Timo Luege, TC103: Technology for Disaster Response Facilitator

After nearly ten years of working as a journalist (online, print and radio), Timo worked four years as a Senior Communications Officer for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Geneva and Haiti. During this time, he also launched the IFRC’s social media activities and wrote the IFRC social media staff guidelines. He then worked as Protection Delegate for International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Liberia before starting to work as a consultant. His clients include UN agencies and NGOs. Among other things, he wrote the UNICEF “Social Media in Emergency Guidelines” and contributed to UNOCHA’s “Humanitarianism in the Network Age”. Over the last year, Timo advised UNHCR- and IFRC-led Shelter Clusters in Myanmar, Mali and most recently the Philippines on Communication and Advocacy. He blogs at Social Media for Good.

Photo credit: Lokesh Todi

On Saturday morning, I woke up to numerous messages on whatsapp and facebook from my friends in India asking me if my family was safe. After listening to a voicemail from a Nepali friend based in Boston, I found out about the earthquake that had hit my country. It didn’t take long after I turned on my computer to see how big the devastation was. My heart sank to my stomach and I was in tears as I mindlessly added credit to my Skype account and repeatedly dialed my parent’s mobile number.

After multiple tries, I was able to get in touch with my family. While I cried throughout the entire call, I was reassured that they were all safe. Fortunately, my family survived this terrible tragedy and was able to stay safe in tents in open spaces near their neighborhood during the more than 100 aftershocks. Unfortunately, however, the 7.9 magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal has swallowed up whole neighborhoods, villages and along with it thousands of people. The death toll is rising as we speak and is estimated to reach around 10,000.

Being this far away from Nepal, I feel very helpless. But technology has allowed me to stay connected with my family and other Nepali communities helping respond to the disaster:

Free Calls to Nepal
Shortly after the earthquake, many phone companies and messaging apps started providing free calls to Nepal. Viber, Skype, and Google Voice are allowing free calls to mobile and landlines in Nepal along with many other phone companies like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and others. This may seem like a small gesture but for a Nepali living abroad, it is a huge relief to be able to constantly contact family members and people requesting and responding to the crisis during this tragic time.

Numerous mapping communities have deployed their teams online to map the crisis in Nepal so that the pleas for help can be detected and resources delivered.

Mapping of damages in Nepal
Map of Damages in Nepal from the earthquake created by SBTF on MicroMappers

I have joined two Atlas Corps Fellows, Medha Sharma, and Luther Jeke to team up with Standby Task Force to help map the affected communities in Nepal by using MicroMappers. Medha and I have reached out to our Nepali networks in and outside of Nepal to help advise the SBTF team by relaying information about ongoing requests for help or offers of assistance. We are also helping translate Nepali tweets, facebook updates, and news articles so that they can be mapped. We have recruited more than 100 Nepali expats and residents to help us with this effort.

Two days ago, I was able to call Dr. Anil Shrestha in Bir Hospital to notify him that we saw his request for a list of medical supplies through Facebook and found a donor willing to provide them. We have connected the two parties and are awaiting confirmation from Dr. Shrestha that he has received the supplies from the Kathmandu airport. You can read about the Standby Task Force’s other small successes here. If you would like to join the SBTF team or have experience living in Nepal and know the community, please email me at samita@techchange.org to join this effort.

Kathmandu Living Labs is leading the mapping efforts on the group in Nepal, but you can also join the mapping effort for Nepal relief with Maptime DC, Tomnod, or Humanitarian OpenStreetMap.

Online Fundraisers
Many organizations and individuals have started fundraisers online to allow the global community to help in Nepal’s recovery.

Two of the alumni from my high school have started a fundraiser on Indiegogo that will direct the funds to local NGOs that may not have connections outside of Nepal to raise a lot of money.

Facebook has launched a campaign to match donations of up to $2 million to the efforts in Nepal. Phone companies have made it easy to donate to the earthquake relief in Nepal through your mobile phones:

  • AT&T customers, text “NEPAL” to 864233 to make a $10 donation to UNICEF
  • T-Mobile customers, text NEPAL to 20222 to donate $10 to Save the Children
  • Verizon customers, text “REDCROSS” to 9999 to donate $10 to The Red Cross

Unmanned aerial vehicles or drones, are playing an important role in the response to the earthquake in Nepal too. Because of a shortage of manned helicopters, the effects of the earthquakes in the most rural parts of Nepal are still unknown, and this is where drones will step in, allowing manned helicopters to continue with rescue missions.

Here is a drone footage of Kathmandu after the earthquake taken by Kishor Rana’s drone.

UAViators founder Patrick Meier said that if you have a drone and want to help, get in touch with the Humanitarian UAV Network and read the Network’s Code of Conduct to help with this effort.

This is the worst earthquake to hit Nepal in 80 years, and the many pictures online show the devastating effect it had on my country. The damages are worst in the areas that have not yet been reached by media or rescue teams. The consequences of this tragedy will affect my country long after the media turns its attention away and we need all the help to rebuild.

If you are a mapper or own a drone, please volunteer your time and skills and join one of the online communities. You can also donate online. You don’t have to go to Nepal to help, in fact, please don’t, unless you are a trained professional for crisis situations. You can do your part to help Nepal with the help of ICTs from wherever you are.

If you are interested in learning how social media and technology is helping in disaster response, join us in our upcoming course on Technology for Disaster Response that begins on June 22.