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The humanitarian side of technology; 3D Printers and FabLabs



3D printing is creating new solutions in humanitarian work. It allows the 3D models to be created and tested in short time, reducing the costs of design, production and logistics which are crucial for developing countries and life-savings conflict zones.  

Printing prosthetics with 3D printers is saving lives
source: ROW3D
“I learnt how to use 3D printers in 3 weeks. While working in Jordan we used 3D printing to print upper limp prosthetics with the maximum cost of 54 dollars” says Asem Hasna, a paramedic and Syrian refugee whose life was changed when his car was hit during the war and lost his leg.

This new way of addressing solutions is now used to answer some of the world’s humanitarian problems.  The Jordanian start-up Refugee Open Ware (ROW) is using the “Fabrication Labs” (FabLabs) structure to create opportunities for the people affected by the war. One of the most remarkable projects they have carried out 3D printing of customized prosthetics, which Asem Hasna is also a part of. Being able to print prosthetics is not just reducing the cost and time but when talking about the conflict affected zones, sometimes making the impossible, possible.

source: International open access journal of
the American society of plastic surgeons
There are various applications in medical field. One of which, The Glia Project is, offering designs and know-how to produce basic medical devices such as stethoscopes and surgical devices.  You can download the detailed design and by using the 3D printers and some basic materials, make your own stethoscope with the total cost of 5 dollars. This is vital for places where you cannot get in or out,
such as war and quarantine zones.

3D printing applications go beyond medical implementations
For the past 5 years the whole world has been watching the war in Syria sprawl into a massive humanitarian crises, displacing thousands and leaving many more struggling to stay alive on the ground. Syria’s civil voluntary defense and first response, White Helmets, are using 3D replicas of unexploded ordinance (UXOs) and landmines to learn to identify and dispose of explosive remnants. This doesn’t only reduce costs but eliminate the life risk of training with real materials.

Fablabs are changing the way we build and implement solutions
FabLabs, are one of the structure that allows users to experience new technologies, including 3D printers, using open source along with traditional models, creating an opportunity for people to develop their own solutions on location, in a time and cost efficient way. This structure also supports stem education, job creation, innovation and social cohesion by using technology. It utilizes vast network of “makers” around the world, allowing cross-country collaborations and is claimed to democratize production. 


We can “smell” cancer cells and explosives with silicon chips
The use of Fablabs tends to exceed our imagination along with the nanotechnology revolution. Here at the University of Maryland’s NanoCenter Fablab, one of the Projects they are working on is developing artificial nose on a chip. Using the silicon technology in detecting which neurons responds to certain smells they are creating chips that can “smell” certain substances. The applications of this may vary from detecting explosives to finding cancer cells for targeted treatment.


Jim O’Connor, director of NanoCenter FabLab at University of Maryland, mentions other applications of nanotechnology; from agriculture to energy,  medical to the development of new materials. Although it is mostly in development stage and in commercial use, it seems there will definitely be social and humanitarian benefits to these technologies. O’Connor explains how with nanotechnology, we can for example make laboratories on a chip. Instead of taking the blood work and sending to labs for testing, all the test and results can be obtained in doctors’ office and quickly. This technology would have tremendous effects in people’s lives, especially in rural places, developing world or conflict areas where you don’t have the laboratory opportunities. 

Refugee crises continue to be a global issue
According to UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) more than 65 million people around the world are forcibly displaced and more than 21 million people are refugees, surpassing even WWII numbers. Under these circumstances, the need for humanitarian aid and coming up with new solutions hold a great  important.

Technology helping us changing the way we see things and create opportunities

Technology has transformed our everyday lives; the ways we see, learn, play, communicate and create. It also opens new ways of tackling some of our substantial global problems. Open source, Fablabs, nanotechnology, crowd sourcing, co-creating, cross country collaborations allow all of us to be a part of the solution and multiply the impact created.


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