Google pumps $20 million into development of 3D-printed prosthetics, other assistive technologies


The company that famously proclaimed in its original mission statement that it would not be evil launched a program this week that certainly burnishes its reputation as a force for good. The Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities, introduced in a blog post on May 26, has pledged $20 million in Google.org grants to nonprofits that are using technology to improve the lives of people living with disabilities.

The first recipients are e-NABLE, an organization that connects children who need prosthetic devices with volunteers who design and 3D print them for free, and World Wide Hearing, which hopes to develop a low-cost, smartphone-based hearing test for use in low-income communities. These organizations will receive, respectively, $600,000 and $500,000 to further their good works. The Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities has issued a call to identify other opportunities at g.co/ImpactChallengeDisability.

"The Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities will seek out nonprofits and help them find new solutions . . . for the disabled community," writes Jacqueline Fuller, Director, Google.org, in the blog post. "We will choose the best of these ideas and help them to scale by investing in their vision, by rallying our people and by mobilizing our resources in support of their missions."

Fuller also recognizes that charity begins at home, if you will, and affirms a commitment to "monitoring the accessibility of Google tools" and providing its engineering team with the training and tools to "incorporate accessibility principles into products and services."

The initial recipients of the Google grants are beyond worthy. PlasticsToday has published articles about the ways in which e-NABLE has transformed the lives of children with disabilities by providing them with 3D-printed prosthetic devices. (Read more about that here.) Conventional prosthetics are costly and often not feasible for children who will outgrow them several times as they age.

World Wide Hearing seeks to address the diagnosis of auditory conditions in low-income communities, a service that is often lacking in the developing world as the equipment is too expensive and bulky. The organization is pursuing the development of a low-cost hearing test supported by smartphone technology. The grant will allow it to prototype and test the device.

The first two grants set the tone for a program that vows to "find new solutions to some serious 'what ifs' for the disabled community," writes Fuller. And there's plenty of work to be done: As Google notes, there are one billion people with disabilities in the world.

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