Making a difference in 72 hours

Swinburne University of Technology hosted Australia’s first TOM Makeathon, developing assistive technology prototypes to address the real-world challenges people with disabilities face every day.
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Making a difference in 72 hours

A 72 hour makeathon to develop assistive technology prototypes has demonstrated how technology and teamwork can change the lives of those living with a disability.

The Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM) Makeathon is a unique approach to creating new assistive technology. Hosted all around the world, the event connects people with a disability who have an idea, the ‘Need-knowers’, to those who can develop the technology, the ‘Makers’. Challenges are then selected and teams are formed to develop a product prototype. 

Hosted by Swinburne University of Technology’s Innovation Precinct from 28 – 30 November 2016, the Melbourne Makeathon was the first TOM event to be held in Australia.

Swinburne’s Director of the Innovation Precinct, Professor Sally McArthur was excited to see the prototypes the teams developed.

“The important thing is that products are tailored to the needs of the individual as that’s the real challenge with assistive technologies,” Professor McArthur said.

“You can’t just classify a disability and say, ‘everybody would have that’.

“It’s about tailoring to the individual and then exploring ways for that product to have a bigger reach”.

The Melbourne Makeathon included ten teams comprising of engineers, designers, developers, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, carers, students, academics and the Need-knowers, from around Australia.

“The exciting thing to me is the way each team has been made … building diverse multi-disciplinary teams [of individuals who’ve never met] to [fit] the needs of each challenge,” Professor McArthur said.

The teams had access to resources in Swinburne’s Innovation Precinct to create the prototype, including 3D printers, laser cutters, electronics, digital programming tools, and fabrication equipment.

Working nonstop over the three days, teams worked on projects including a portable ramp for wheelchair users; a bicycle for a quadruple amputee; a flexible neck support device for wheelchair users; and a computer power switch system for users who cannot access a computer’s power button.

At the conclusion of the Makeathon, the teams were judged by a panel of academics and technology and healthcare industry experts and each given prizes to further develop the prototypes for commercialisation.

These included use of 3D printers, wireless routers, opportunities to use co-working office and maker spaces, public relations strategy sessions, legal, research and development, and commercialisation consultations, and inclusive design, empathy building mentorships.

Swinburne’s Innovation Precinct also awarded Team 8: Jill Will with $2,000 worth of consultancy services to develop the prototype further for their standout interdisciplinary teamwork.

This team presented a pressure sensitive mat (to be placed on a wheelchair seat) to assist wheelchair users with posture and reduce the number of severe pressure injuries.

Prototype designs from the Makeathon will now be made available on the TOM website to enable affordable solutions for anyone to pursue and contribute to a global inclusive society.

Visit the TOM: Melbourne facebook page to view the teams’ presentations.

Image: Team 2: TechNeck's workspace at the 72 hour TOM: Melbourne Makethon.

Image insert: Team Re-cycle in the workshop at Swinburne University of Technology developing their prototype during the makeathon.