Open Sourcing COVID-19

April 25, 2020 | Tim Rexer

During this extraordinary time, people are dependent on each other more than ever. In the midst of all of this, people have risen to meet the challenge. A boy scout started a movement to print ear protectors for nurses and first responders. Other’s including Prusa Research have designed face shields, while some companies have shared their mask designs for people to build. There has been such an outpouring of help, that the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has set up an online exchange of items that can be made, and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has provided guidance on how the devices can be used. None of this would have been possible without open source designs.

First of all, many of the designs used for printers as well as the items made on them are open source. A lot of the things made by printers, are designed on open source software such as Tinkercad, FreeCAD, & OpenSCAD. Additionally, some of the most popular printers are Open Source certified, & many of their expansions and upgrades are open source as well. This allows for greater collaboration & design, as well as cheaper cost per unit. Cheaper costs really come into play in crises like this, when cheaper unit costs allow more people to buy them. The more people who buy them, the more items can be produced by them. As more items are produced, more equipment gets made for those in need.

Finally, the open sourcing of the designs, allows for more of the designs to be printed by more people. It also improves design more rapidly as there is more open collaboration than in closed organizations. Closed organizations are limited by their budgets, which limits the kind of talent they can recruit. This limited talent pool, while sometimes extraordinary, is still limited. Think of the work that even Dr. Steven Hawking could achieve if he was only allowed to talk to people within Cambridge or use only their research. Opening up designs allows for experts from all over the world to weigh in and evaluate, possibly even contribute. There are dozens of sites that host repositories of these designs, and many of them include the ability to re-design and publish an improvement. If you have the ability, join in and participate, then do so. Take a look at the National Institute of Health’s 3D Print Exchange, either print, re-design, or communicate with someone who can. The more people who get involved, the more people we can help.

So far, this has all been about Open Source, and 3D printing, so you might be asking, how does it affect autism? In fact, they’re very closely related. There are many different types of autism, and it affects each person differently. This time can be particularly tough for those with sensitivities to touch. If nurses and medical professionals have difficulty with the feeling of their face masks on their ears, how do you think someone with a sensitivity to touch feels? Additionally, people with autism can have a difficult time in social situations understanding people’s facial expressions, let alone when it’s blocked by a mask. So, how can open source and 3D printing help? First off, open sourced designs can help to improve the experience for those with sensory issues like touch. The ear guards are a great place to start, but there are other ways that open sourced designs can help such as allowing for additional foam or softer materials to exist in a design. To help with the social side, either designs can be made to help show the face, some of this has already been done with adapters to scuba masks that allow a filter to be attached. None of this would be possible without open source designs.

As we all know by now, we’re all in this together. We may be physically separated, or in financial situations based on how our industries are affected by this outbreak. However, we can all work together to get through this. The type of collaboration provided by open source is helping to bridge that gap, and show that we are all better off when we work together.