DIY Surgery: The Future Of Medicine?


In 2015, if you need an operation, you go to a hospital. The Open Surgery Machine imagines a future in which getting an appendectomy is as DIY as downloading a template from Thingsverse and firing up your MakerBot: an open-source robot surgeon in a box that is capable of performing simple, low-cost operations safely and with little doctor intervention.

Frank Kolkman is a Dutch-born interaction designer who recently graduated from London’s Royal College of Art. He tells me that the inspiration for the Open Surgery Machine wasn’t sci-fi, but YouTube. “America has the most advanced health care industry in the world, but there is this growing group of middle-class U.S. citizens who have no access to it, and YouTube is currently filling this gap,” he says. “Mainly uninsured Americans are sharing videos on how to perform hacks on yourself as an alternative to professional care.” (You can see some of these videos here, although you’ll want a strong stomach to click that link.)

Conceptually, Kolkman’s Surgery Robot explores the idea of combining DIY medical pragmatism with the more capable innovations found in medical industries. It’s designed to perform simple surgeries like laparoscopic surgery, in which three or more small keyhole incisions are made to allow a surgeon to operate inside a part of a patient’s body after inflating it with CO2, reducing the risk of infection. That would allow the DIY Surgery Robot to perform (again, theoretically—the concept is non-functional) appendectomies, prostate operations, hysterectomies, and also colon and general inspections. These procedures are already often performed with the assistance of robotic surgery systems; the DIY Surgery Robot would just take those doctors out of the equation.

Ultimately, the Surgery Robot is only intended as the focus point of a thought experiment: What if there was just as robust an online community of hobbyists, engineers, and designers for alternative health care products as there are for 3-D printer and CNC milling machines? “I hope that by challenging the socioeconomic frameworks the current health care systems operate within, where health care is valued in terms of money and labor, my project raises questions about the social value of health care by showing an alternative approach,” Kolkman says.

But the designer is also frank about the fact that he thinks it’s unlikely that something like the DIY Surgical Robot could get off the ground. Even taking the legal and liability aspects of the project out of the equation, patents would likely kill it as a commercial product in the incubation stage: most of the base technologies relied upon for robot surgery are thoroughly patented and rigorously guarded.

You can read more about Kolkman’s Open Surgery project here

Alan Turing 6 Instructions

As MIT professor John Guttag explains, Interesting he originally studied english in undergrad.

Original 6 instructions created by the conflicted and emotional Alan Turing. Most of which are the basis for our text editors today. Instructions can be thought of as functions or methods, and most text editors operate very much the same

Right: Move the Machine’s head to the right of the current square
Left: Move the Machine’s head to the left of the current square
Print: Print a symbol on the current square
Scan: Identify any symbols on the current square
Erase: Erase any symbols presented o the current square
Nothing: Do nothing

A 3D CAD Solution for the Rest of Us

CNC is not a cheap proposition.  The mills are expensive.  The materials can be expensive.  And good software can be expensive.  So while we can’t do much about the first two, I’ve been thinking about how to attack that third one – the software.

I’ve looked at the alternatives and there are many.

I started with the premise that 2D AutoCAD is not sufficient anymore.  Not, that there’s anything wrong with AutoCAD – I’ve used it for years and I’m pretty proficient.  But the advantages of 3D are pretty significant and if it can be had for a reasonable price, then it would be a big improvement for me.

There are plenty of free or inexpensive 3D CAD systems (see Peter Eland’s site for a list:, but I’ve always been a bit leery of shareware.  The documentation is lousy.  The support is non-existent.

A few weeks ago, I came across another alternative.  Autodesk now has a product called the AutoCAD Inventor LT Suite which includes both an up to date copy of AutoCAD LT (mine is really old) and a copy of Inventor LT.  The latter is a light version of Autodesk Inventor – the $5,000 CAD system that I would buy if money grew on trees.

Autodesk Inventor LT Suite includes both Inventor LT and AutoCAD LT

As far as I can tell, the only things that make Inventor LT different from the $5000 seat of Inventor are that (1) it only handles single parts, and (2) there are no partner applications that integrate with it (no API).  But I don’t need any of those things for my projects.  I just need a good 3D part modeler that can output model data into a format that I can convert into g-code.  Inventor LT can do what I need for around $1,000 which is within my budget.

Here’s a good 3D modeling example video that I found on YouTube.

There are also a good number of instructional videos on YouTube if you search for Autodesk Inventor.

3D Printing Teeth

MY Teach and Dental Work have been a trauma in my life since I first busted them until I needed to have a life saving operation, pretty interesting that now people are printing them out on their Rep Raps, maybe one day we will be able to print our own implants made out of special material and take them to the doctor.

These Terrifyingly Real Teeth Were Made By a New Dental 3D Printer

The world is still trying to figure out why every home would need a 3D printer, but in the professional world they continue to thrive. At the International Dental Show currently going on in Germany, Stratasys announced a new 3D printer that uses multiple materials at once to create startlingly realistic dental models in a single print run.

check out all the terrifying goodness.

Pebble Watch Leading the Way for DIY Economy

This interesting piece by 3d  Like the internet in the early days 3D printing has been relegated to geeks and DIY enthusiasts with limited usage. But as the industry has matured it has slowly infiltrated the mainstream.  The story of Pebble watch shows how far 3D printing has come and the potential of where we can go.  How many other Startups and small businesses will spawn from the blades and lasers of a 3D printer?

p2When we decided to launch just over 13 months ago, we looked at it as a hobby, but the pace at which things have progressed, both for us and for the industry in general, has taken even us by surprise. Additive manufacturing is changing the world as we know it, and although there are still plenty of skeptics out there, I now truly believe that we are in the midst of the third industrial revolution.

“Why would anyone want a 3D printer? Who wants to pay $1000 to $2000 to be able to print out plastic little trinkets?”

Those are common questions I receive on a weekly basis from family and friends who don’t regularly read our site. The fact is, however, that they are asking legitimate questions. Why would someone pay so much money for a machine to print out plastic trinkets? What these doubters fail to realize when asking these questions is that plastic trinkets are not the driving force of this technology, and prices are rapidly declining. What is driving adoption rates of 3D printers within homes and offices are useful applications which put complete control in the consumer’s hands. As each month passes literally dozens on new applicable uses for desktop 3D printers emerge from companies small and large.


Take for instance what one Palo Alto, California-based company, Pebble, is doing with their smartwatch. Pebble exploded onto the scene during the Spring of 2012. They raised a staggering$10,266,845 via Kickstarter for their E-Paper smartwatch. Soon after, buzz began to emerge that Apple would be launching their very own smartwatch as well, which they later unveiled. How does a tiny startup with several million crowdfunded dollars compete with the most valuable company on the planet? Most don’t. Even I, myself, envisioned Pebble folding soon after the announcement of the Apple Watch. I was wrong, like I am quite often, and instead of rolling over to die, the company did the same thing which initially brought them success: think outside the box.

Diagram of Pebble Smartstrap

Last month Pebble launched another Kickstarter campaign, this time for the Pebble Time smartwatch. With weeks still remaining, this campaign has already brought in well over $15.5 million. So, who’s buying a Pebble, and why are they buying it when Apple’s smartwatch is ready to be released within weeks? People who desire the ability to personalize their own accessories.

Pebble has decided that in order to succeed in a market with Apple they must differentiate themselves. How are they doing this? Via 3D printing. Late last month we did a story on Pebble, which had announced that they will be offering free downloadable 3D printing files to whomever wishes to print out their own custom watch bands. Yesterday the company released mechanical and electrical designs so that hobbyists and designers can begin customizing their very own 3D printable smartstraps. In doing so, Pebble is attracting individuals to their brand who want to be a part of their watch design, people who take pride in the fact that they are different, and that they made an impact on the watch that they are wearing.

Now envision a time in the not-too-distant future when almost anything you buy will be able to be customized for no more than the cost of some plastic filament. Now do you see where desktop 3D printers may fit into our lives?

With reliable 3D printers already on the market for less than you’d pay for an average smartphone, such a future seems like it may be closer than even I had imagined. As printers continue to expand in their capabilities, prices drop further, and the sheer number of applicable uses for these machines grows exponentially, there is little doubt in my mind that 3D printing will eventually rule our global economy. The question won’t be “Why would anyone want a 3D printer?” it will be “Why wouldn’t anyone want a 3D printer?” Pebble’s adoption of the technology into its ecosystem is only the beginning.

Let’s hear your thoughts on Pebble and its possible implications on the 3D printing space. Discuss in the 3D Printing Economy forum thread on

3D Printing Organs: Tracheal Cartilage and Kidneys.

This video explains the major shortage our society has with the availability of organs, in the last 10 years the number of patients that require organs has doubled, while at the same time the actual number of transplants has barely gone up, creating a public health crisis. This video discusses the field of regenerative medicine and how it plans to solve this problem.  There are specific materials doctors can implant into the body such as stem cells that can regenerate or… actually 3D printing the organs.

One method described here is a patient presented with a diseased organ, the organs are then printed out of special materials based on this organ.

The biggest challenge described in the video is creating whole solid organs in their entirety such as a kidneys. The strategy is to take an xray, and to use 3D reconstruction and 3D imaging to view the patients kidney. The researchers then take this information and scan it into a 3D printer.  Developing more precise 3D printing technology is critical, to furthering this field.

Printing a 2-inch (5 cm) long section of windpipe takes less than two hours

Printing a 2-inch (5 cm) long section of windpipe takes less than two hours

Above is an example of Maker Bot 3D printers being used to create tracheal cartilage

Researchers at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research have successfully created cartilage using a MakerBot 3D printer. The team made use of the technology to quickly and affordably prototype and refine the bioprosthesis, and even used it to create a low-cost bioreactor to facilitate the growth of the cells.