The Next Revolution in Medical Devices: Self-Design and Prototyping


have just returned from the Maker Faire and have seen the future of medical device innovation, invention, and design– Self-design and rapid home prototyping.  For those unfamiliar with the jargon basically technology now exists that can allow the creation of a working prototype of a device from idea to an actual working hand-held version in a physician-inventor’s own home.  This has the potential to democratize the process and eliminate previous massive cost and technological barriers that kept the process inaccessible except to large industry or those with substantial capital resources.

One person I spoke with was calling this the Next Industrial Revolution.  To me this is clearly the inevitable technological evolution of design and device innovation following in the exact path blazed by desktop publishing, digital video and computer based editing for movie creation to name just two examples.  –And once again it is fueled by the exponential progress in computer power –here married to a fanatical base of innovators driving the creation of the raw tools that will be the assembly line of the future.

What is Maker Faire? Maker Fair just had its first NY exhibit and is an offshoot of Make magazine.  MAKE brings the do-it-yourself mindset to all the technology in your life. Think of it as technology-hackers.  Its like wood-shop for the 21st century hacker who is building his own radio controlled spy drone or augmented reality device instead of oven mitts and hotplate coasters.  AS they write “this is a magazine that celebrates your right to tweak, hack, and bend any technology to your own will. For example, in our first volume, we show you how to get involved in Kite Aerial Photography, how to make a cheap but effective video camera stabilizer, and how to build a device that reads the hidden information stored on the magnetic stripes on all your credit cards.”

Homelab laser engraver/cutter.  can carve any substance with laser power and precision.  cuts out 3D models too.

But that’s just the beginning.  The sophistication of the home creation kits is mind-blowing.

This is a beagleboard.  It contains all the power of an entire computer.  It was running what looked like a normal desktop with a video capture and object recognition on a version of linux.  It costs less than $500 and can be the basis for home-made computer intelligent devices.  All open source as well.

At the Faire take thousands of people with this mindset, demos, kits, and lessons to “celebrate arts, crafts, engineering, science projects and the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) mindset.”  And as usual for my tech crossovers— add one doctor to the group.

What’s The Medical Significance? As usual I search out emerging technologies not yet used in medicine that have the potential to right now change how we do things.  What’s struck me with all I saw was the common theme that anything that was a high tech machine now today can be imagined, designed, researched, 3D modeled, and turned into working prototype all in a home workshop on an inventor’s budget.  What’s more this now applies to the physical aspects (ie plastic casing and movable parts) and to the electronics being them embedded operating systems or any myriad of sensors.  The theme of the day was that you yourself can see these projects through to this stage and there is a thriving community and ground-swell of momentum to build a grass roots infrastructure to help.

Examples of 3D Prototyping/Desktop Manufacturing:

The left image is a makerbot — you build this machine and then it produces 3d models out of plastic from 3D images on you computer.  You can anything from an action figure to a device handle to well– the middle images was made on a higher end system like that shown on the right.  here the machine first modeled the bones then applied a tissue layer over it.  The system right now can take any 3D dataset from an ultrasound MRI or CT scan and reconstruct 3D tissue or organ models.  I’ll follow up in a later post how scientists are using such technologies to literally build artificial organs in the lab– they build the structure then seed it with living cells that create the organ.  The maker bot replaces a $100,000 fabricator from a decade ago and costs under $1500– and its all open source.

Could You Cure a Disease With a Device Invention?  Does Your Child Think He or She Could?  You’d be Surprised?  The New Inventor’s Mindset for the 21st Century. You probably grew up thinking devices of all sorts and especially electronics were otherworldly gizmos of incomprehensible complexity of design.  The workings of a TV, video camera, or electronic medical diagnostic device where the stuff that only  biomedical engineer with a pocket protector and a degree from MIT could have created.  Your kids think otherwise.  They are comfortable with technology and with programming computers when presented with understandable languages.  They can make a webpage.  They can edit video and retouch photos.  They have a myspace page.  They may tinker with remote control toys.  Many of them with some practice can create 3D computer graphics.  Just recently A Russian amateur filmmaker called Alexander Semenov produced this 2.5 minute bootleg Transformers short with a couple of sub-$1,000 cameras, two hours’ of footage and a month in the home desktop editing suite that many think rivals the effects of a million dollar Hollywood blockbuster.

Understand that the next generation of design and creation tools will use these same sorts of visual programming language and are just as accessible. I walked through the exhibits with a 6 and 9 year old. By the end of the day the 6 year old had soldered an LED lit circuit board to make an electronic toy (parts cost $1), both had piloted radio controlled robots complete with sensors, and had begun to design autonomous robotic creatures– and they had never done this before.  I was recently asked to give a talk to a group of 4th graders working on the Lego First competition.  This is a robotics competition for kids to build working devices.  There are more than 10,000 teams competing this year.  This year’s theme is biomedical research.  They kids were instructed that they have the tools to invent a device that could solve a medical problem.  They don’t believe only MIT engineers solve problems.  They expect to.  Remember who invented youtube and facebook.

home kit for sensor based mobile search and rescue bot.  The same sophistication as a military robot and the same technology as in implantable body rovers being developed.

robotic arm prototype- could model prosthetics

home made kit for scanning tunneling microscope for research uses.  A scanning tunneling microscope (STM) is a powerful instrument for imaging surfaces at the atomic level. Its development in 1981 earned its inventors the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1986. For an STM, good resolution is considered to be 0.1 nm lateral resolution and 0.01 nm depth resolution.With this resolution, individual atoms within materials are routinely imaged and manipulated.  This is now a do-it-yourself kits for under $200 all open source design and technology

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