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Google pledges funding for 3D-printed prosthetics, other aid technology

It launches a $20 million fund for nonprofits whose emerging tech could help make people living with disabilities become more independent. The first bit goes toward low-cost prosthetics and auditory therapy.

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Google has promised to pour out $20 million in funding from its nonprofit arm to support emerging technology aimed at improving the lives of those with disabilities.

The tech giant has launched the Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities project, aimed at, among other things, propelling the development of 3D-printed prosthetics to assist the disabled in their daily lives, Jacquelline Fuller, the director of, said in a blog post Tuesday.

There are a number of startups exploring the world of 3D-printed prosthetics as an alternative to expensive, traditional devices. 3D printing offers cheapness of material and the ability to manufacture delicate components used in the moving parts of arms, legs or hands rapidly -- with high precision thanks to computer-aided design programs used to operate 3D printers. This, in turn, drastically reduces the cost of prosthetics and opens up the opportunity of having one fitted for those in low-income households and developing countries.

The Google Impact Challenge will seek out nonprofits and help them find new solutions to some serious "what ifs" for the disabled community, according to the blog post. The best of submitted ideas will be supported by the tech giant and given the chance to develop using Google's resources.

To kick off the open call for ideas, Google has awarded funding to two companies that focus on reducing the cost of prosthetic limbs and of auditory therapy, which could eventually improve access to these technologies worldwide.

The Enable community has been awarded $600,000 to further the cause of open-source, 3D-printed prosthetic limbs. While traditional prosthetics can cost thousands of dollars to fit, assemble and purchase, research and development in 3D printing has the potential to revolutionize the industry. As an example, last year 3D printed prosthetics were used to replace limbs lost by children caught in the Sudanese war for as little as $100. Google's funding will be used by the Enable community -- which uses 3D printers to design, assemble and fit 3D prosthetics for free -- to advance the development of open-source 3D-printed upper-limb prosthetics.

In addition, nonprofit group World Wide Hearing has been awarded $500,000. The organization will develop a low-cost toolkit for diagnosing auditory problems using smartphone technology in the developing world and in low-income communities.

Fuller writes:

"Historically, people living with disabilities have relied on technologies that were often bulky, expensive, and limited to assisting with one or two specific tasks. But that's beginning to change. Thanks to groups like Enable and World Wide Hearing, and with tools like Liftware, we're starting to see the potential for technologies that can profoundly and affordably impact millions. But we'll all get there sooner if we make it a team effort-which is why we're launching Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities today. Together, we can create a better world, faster."

This story originally posted as "Google pledges $20M to give 3D prosthetics a helping hand" on ZDNet.