The 2016 Million Dollar Maker Arena First Prize: Helping the Disabled with Open-source Prostheses

By Yuxiang Ou

President Tsai learning about the electric prosthetic arm (Image courtesy of TGH Social Science Group)

Do you remember last year’s Million Dollar Maker Arena Contest that brought so many outstanding makers together? Well, a year has passed and you may be curious to know how the top five winners are getting on. This month, we are focusing on the team who won first place, TGH Social Science Group, and the winners of the Popular Award, Brilliant Product Design.

At the 2016 Million Dollar Maker Arena Contest held by the Ministry of Labor and vMaker, five teams stood out among the twelve that made it to the finals. Of the five, TGH Social Science Group won the one million dollar prize with their Open-source Electric Prosthetic Limb. Their creation impressed the judges and the audience with its ability to improve the lives of prosthesis users.

Since then, they have made a Taiwan God Hand Facebook Group to share the designs for their open-source prosthetic components in their entirety, so that people who need or are interested in them can learn to make them by themselves, which helps everybody in the long run. There are currently 21 people waiting in line to collaborate with the team.

The Turning Mattress by Brilliant Product Design helps bedridden patients and their caregivers by enabling the former to turn over in bed. As anticipated, this design won the Popular Award, with a prize of $50,000. Brilliant Product Design has always been a one-man show, and was researching products before the contest. Brilliant Product Design’s outstanding performance at the contest proved the feasibility of the Turning Mattress.

A year later, the Turning Mattress has been patented in Taiwan and is ready for mass production. Brilliant Product Design is going to become a designer of medical devices and aim for the global market. It is still a one-man outfit and currently is at work on a second product to be used alongside the Turning Mattress. We can’t wait.

The Turning Mattress is doing well in the market (Image courtesy of Brilliant Product Design)

Now let’s take a look at how these two outstanding teams are doing a year later

Both TGH Social Science Group and Brilliant Product Design started out as makers, and they have both won significant achievements in their respective fields to date. Each has its own viewpoint on the maker movement and open-source products. TGH Social Science Group currently runs a Facebook Group, makes prosthetic limbs for charity, and collaborates with people in need. They also share their information online in line with open-source principles, to help spread knowledge and eliminate knowledge asymmetry in order to benefit more people.

Meanwhile, Brilliant Product Design believes that the most meaningful and beneficial part of collaborating with other makers is that you can learn from their experience and avoid making the same mistakes. As Brilliant Product Design is a one-man outfit, collaborating in this way can make up for the one thing lacking—other people. The instructor who was assigned to Brilliant Product Design during the contest gave him a lot of feedback, and this has proved to be a very useful resource.

The best advice team TGH got from their instructor was to aim for the global market and focus on local demands, which enables them both to help more people and also to sell the technology to other countries, thus increasing their visibility. TGH are currently trying to start their own juridical association, and are currently working with Taipei Veterans General Hospital, Kaohsiung Medical University, and Southern Taiwan University of Science and Technology on the development of electronic prostheses and exoskeletons.

Open-source electronic prosthesis by TGH Social Science Group (Image courtesy of TGH Social Science Group)

It might appear to be plain sailing for TGH hereon out, but legal difficulties mean they can only help their customers in conformity with the Independent Review Board, which poses certain problems. Thus, they are planning to create a standard procedure which will allow their God Hands to be made by legal manufacturers under the supervision of hospital rehabilitation divisions. During production, only raw materials will be charged; —rehabilitation divisions are covered by health insurance, and the manufacturers are funded by the government. Everything is being done to improve the quality of the product.

Both TGH Social Science Group and Brilliant Product Design are devoted to research into medical devices that can improve people’s lives. They say taking part in the Million Dollar Maker Arena Contest was a great boost to their motivation because they proved their products were viable and were able to interact with other makers, gaining experience from each other and encouraging each other to stay on the right entrepreneurship track: collaboration and reaching out to people in need.

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