Personal protective equipment for medical professionals, cloth or disposable face masks for the general population—these are the main ways, combined with social distancing, that we will protect ourselves from the coronavirus. But even though virus transmission from surfaces is rare, it does happen. And it is making us wary of what we touch. While I’m not wiping down every package that I bring into the house, I’ve been pushing crosswalk buttons with my foot and tapping ATM buttons with a key these days. I don’t think I’ll ever push an elevator button without at least hesitating again.
So I wasn’t surprised to find that the 3D-printed gadgets that won a recent design contest were aimed at helping overcome today’s fear of touching. The contest, hosted by Cad Crowd, a marketplace for product designer services, asked entrants to submit products that could be quickly and easily produced using 3D printing and could potentially reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Entrants were asked to provide files in standard formats available for sharing under a Creative Commons open-source license. Cad Crowd selected five winners from 137 entries, each receiving a modest US $500 prize and bragging rights.
Two of the winning designs are wearables—aimed at people like me who are trying to avoid directly touching buttons and other things around us. One, from Fadi Sayegh in Turkey, is worn like a bracelet and another, from Christiano Nishi in Germany, is worn like a ring.
A wrist-mounted 3D-printed gadget can help push elevator and crosswalk buttons (top-left). Wearable rings allow users to touch buttons without using their hands (top-right). A multi-function wearable device has knobs and hooks to simplify different pushes, pulls, and lifts (bottom-left). Attaching 3D-printed devices to the bottom of doors allow them to be more easily opened and held by feet (bottom-right). Images: Cad Crowd
Another winner, Liviu Barbu in Romania, solves the same problem, but is intended to be slipped on when needed instead of worn constantly, and has various knobs and hooks to simplify different pushes, pulls, and lifts.
Two of the winners attach to objects instead of humans. One, from Gilar Pandu Annanto in Indonesia, attaches to the bottom of doors to allow them to be more easily opened and held by feet; the other, from Tejas Dhuppad in India, converts door and faucet knobs into a lever that can be operated with an elbow.
Other clever designs that stood out for me included:
• Mask clips that function like barrettes to turn any piece of cloth or soft paper into a face mask, from Djurdja Garcevic in Serbia;
• A pocket-sized spray bottle for hand sanitizer with a flip out post for button pushing, from Armin Sehic in Bosnia and Herzegovina;
• A wrist wearable dispenser for hand sanitizer from Abdul Tanzeel (who didn’t provide a country of residence);
• A back-of-the head clip for mask strings to take the pressure off the ears, from Gaurang Joshi in India. (There were a couple of designs for this entered—and I’ve seen many versions of such a gadget in the non-3D-printed world, including crochet patterns. The version pictured here, I thought, seemed the most comfortable and practical.)
3D-printed clips can turn any piece of cloth or soft paper into a face mask (top-left). One design for 3D-printed pocket-sized spray bottle for hand sanitizer includes a flip out pointer for pushing buttons (top-right). A dispenser for hand sanitizer is designed to wear around the wrist (bottom-left). Putting a 3D-printed clip against the back of your head takes the pressure off the mask strings that otherwise would loop around the ears (bottom-right). Images: Cad Crowd
A few submissions went beyond gadgets into the life support category, which I am not able to evaluate.
Downloadable files for all these 3D printables are available here.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 30 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.