Industrial engineer Guillermo Martinez had always been curious about the world of 3D printing.
When he finally bought his own printer for $172 in 2017, he started following YouTube tutorials on building robots and other devices, purely for his own amusement.
Each day, at six o’clock in the evening, the 24-year-old would finish up at Juguetrónica, a toy shop in Madrid that develops and sells toys, and would busy himself with various projects on his 3D printer.
However, the day Martinez day watched a tutorial for a prosthetic hand would change his life forever.
“I learnt how to build robots by watching YouTube tutorials and at university, but the turning point was when I started building parts to assemble bigger things,” he explained.
“One day,” he said, “I found the prototype of a one-hand prosthesis on the Internet, and I started putting it together in ways that made me laugh — with the thumb up, twisted round, giving the middle finger,” he laughed.
This is how he went from creating basic robots to making entire hands.
“I started making many 3D-printed hand prostheses for fun,” said Martinez, “then I thought to myself, ‘what if this can actually help someone?’ I had already prepared my trip to Kenya and I contacted the NGO Bamba Project, as well as one of the orphanages that operates in Kenya. I didn’t think I was going to find anyone.”
However, it soon transpired that the prosthetics were massively sought-after.
The next morning, however, he already had six messages on WhatsApp asking for him for prostheses. “They were from all over in Kenya, hours away from one place to another,” he said.
“There are everyday things we do in our daily lives that we take for granted,” said Martinez, “and we don’t realize how lucky we are. For others it’s a constant struggle, and that’s why I set up Ayúdame3D to do my own bit, however small.”
Martinez wanted to make the prostheses in Kenya, but there were hurdles
Resources are limited in Kenya, with the majority of Kenyans surviving on less than $2 a day, and around 36% of Kenyans living below the poverty line, according to World Bank statistics.
“I’d always considered making prostheses in Kenya — or somewhere else where I’d volunteered,” Martinez explained, “but when I went there, I realised it just wasn’t viable. I would have to spend a lot more time there to train someone in 3D printing, and the materials used to make the prostheses aren’t easy to find there — not to mention the fact that, in Kenya, there are power outages all the time.”
The biggest advantage? The prostheses only cost $50 each
The initiative develops collapsible devices that allow you to grasp and hold objects up to 10 kilograms in weight. One of its major advantages is they only costs $50 each.
The devices are made of plastic and their mechanism consists of high-tension wires and rubber bands — this combination, when a person’s natural joint is rotated, creates a prehensile movement in the fingers of the prosthesis.
“I went there, tested out the prostheses, and saw that people were getting to grips with it quickly after using it. It felt great. I considered stopping there, but I loved the feeling of being able to help others so much that I decided to start Ayúdame3D.
To further expand his project, he started a crowdfunding campaign
“I opened a website where people could make donations online. The website showcased what the project was capable of achieving and how I wanted to further develop it. Then I started contacting people who would be able to help me, like NGOs, investors, and the media,” he explained.
He knew he had to get a move on if he wanted to pursue the initiative so he began talking to the press.
“Thanks to the media, more and more emails turned up in my inbox asking for 3D prostheses. Sometimes it wasn’t even for them, but for relatives or friends,” said Martinez.
To date, Martinez has delivered 50 prostheses to countries all over the world.
The end goal is to set up a worldwide network.
This way, the prostheses could be delivered much more quickly and at a fraction of the cost.
In addition to Ayúdame3D, Martinez is now also working on a project to train children to use new tech.
The project, “Ayúdame3D Kids”, teaches children about 3D printing.
“We contact schools and give each classroom some manuals to help train them in new technology. The first level involves teaching kids how to make key rings with their name on or with easy shapes. The idea is that the difficulty level increases gradually until they’re making more complex constructions like prostheses. Once it’s done, we’ll give a talk about how the 3D hands will be put to use,” he explained.
“It’s not about making money.”
“All things like this require some form of financing, of course, but the end goal is to develop new tech for children, in addition to partnerships with NGOs. This isn’t a money-making scheme,” he explained.
Ayúdame3D has changed the lives of so many people, it earned Martinez the received the World Youth Forum award.
“I wasn’t expecting it at all,” Martinez explained, “I was being invited to a forum in Egypt, to a round table on tech volunteering. The day before, they told me that they were going to give me a prize and I was so shocked. This is the sort of thing that’s propelled me to carry on, because I can see people have faith in it.”
Martinez’s advice for anyone considering becoming an entrepreneur?
“If you have an idea,” he says, “get on with it, regardless of whether or not it’s perfect. Try it and, if it fails, do it again until you find a solution.”