Continued from Ethan & the Robohand
I returned home to St. Louis with a new direction. The existing designs did not prove to be enough to fit Ethan’s unique case; something more versatile would be needed. I saw this as an opportunity to create a design that could go farther than the existing ones available open source, which resembled more of a puppet hand than a mechanical prosthesis. Within a week, I had a digital mock up of the mechanisms created using CAD (Computer Aided Design). I reached out to one of the leaders of the open source community to share my idea. However, they were not very receptive of a new design and I decided to preserver without their help. The next step was to create a printable version of the mock up so that Ethan could test out the pieces. I was able to 3D print the pieces out myself this time, since my 3D printer, Pandora, had recently been making parts for herself that would improve her functionality.
I returned to Columbia that weekend to test the basic function of the design with Ethan. Even though only a week had passed, I was of the mindset to test as quickly as possible in order to adapt. This mentality comes from Steve Blank’s and Eric Ries’ teachings on entrepreneurship, specifically the lean startup. The Lean Startup Method validates and directs the creation of a product or service through customer interactions and a rigid experimentation practice. When used thoughtfully, AM can be a valuable asset in this customer validation by creating minimum viable products (MVPs) versus complete prototypes. This development process offers a new perspective that is in opposition to the intuitive approach many designers and engineers hold. Essentially, it saves you from “achieving failure” by spending time and resources on a product that, in the end, no one wants.
The feature being tested in this instance was fundamental to the operation of the entire design, being able to operate the lever. To test this, I assembled a mock up system of all the mechanisms, with proper resistance, driven by a lever. Ethan was able to operate the lever, and showed some weak points that would need to be compensated. With the lever design point validated, progress could be continued!
Before Ethan and his family left, Ethan’s father surprised me with a prototype of his own. He had used an erector set, elastic, and orthoplastic to make his own version of a hand. It resembled a robot claw, and looked pretty cool. However, Ethan did not like wearing it because it was very top heavy. This helped validate another point, that weight was a very important factor. It was the father’s prototype that showed this, not just talking to Ethan or his family about the features he wanted. This is at the heart of the lean startup method. I believe it is better to craft thoughtful experiments to gain insight through a customer’s reaction to minimum viable products versus merely listening to what they think they want. This is the true essence to Ford’s famous quote, that if he had asked consumers what they wanted, they would have said a better horse. I believe the lean startup method provides the better solution to innovation.
While talking with Derek that night, he offered for me to stay with him in Columbia for the week and continue working. I took him up on the offer and began my week of couch surfing. I worked night and day on the design, minus a few nights for a LAN party. In addition to working on the design, I made another trip to Ethan’s family in an attempt to scan Ethan’s right hand and arm. This would allow others to collaborate, if they wanted to help. Then they would know all of Ethan dimensions without having to see him. I took a kinect scanner to try and scan his limb. However, it wasn’t detailed enough. Better scanners are just too expensive at this time, and the family did not want to get an MRI. Any scanning pursuits were abandoned.
Two and a half weeks after testing the mock up with Ethan, the fingers and suspension system (2/3 of the device) were designed for practical functionality and ready to print. The last mechanism, the lever and gears, were not yet ready for printing, but that would have to wait. Startup Weekend was just a few days away, and an image was needed for my presentation.
Startup Weekend is an entrepreneurial event hosted in cities around the world. The idea of the weekend long event is to bring entrepreneurs together to launch a business in the 54 hours the event takes place. At the end of the weekend, each team presents their work to a panel of judges. 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place are then awarded before all the entrepreneurs get together for a big party/sleep for the first time in three days.
My intention for the weekend was the gain support from developers in order to create a website to share this open source. I wasn’t concerned about the competition in the slightest, but just to advance the work of the website and use it as a boost to the cause. I was following the business layout presented in Chris Anderson’s book “Makers: The New Industrial Revolution.” The premise behind this was that technology released open source could still be the foundation of a viable business. Essentially, you share the digital bits and sell the physical atoms.
By this point, a brainstorming session with my friend and former business partner Juard had lead to the naming of the device. It was to be dubbed the “Gauntlet”, and the movement behind it the “Gauntlet Initiative.”
Little did I know that my experience at Startup Weekend would drastically change my plans for the Gauntlet Initiative, as well as my next startup.
Continued in Startup Weekend
 Alex Madinger
 Maura Madinger
 Alex Madinger
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