When I worked for the School of Medicine, I worked quite a bit with medical doctors and educators are experts on medical education and medical simulations. Over the years I’ve seen many simulators, ranging from simple text-based scenarios (kind of like the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy game to elaborate simulations taking place in Second Life to the extremely expensive (and extremely creepy) mannequin simulators.
The one thing that struck me about the mannequin simulators is how limited they are given the price tag. The less expensive ones are barely more than plastic dolls, and the ones that attempt to emulate human physiology in its entirety are difficult to program and are very finicky.
So… I decided to see if I could build a medical simulator that costs under $300.00. Instead of trying to build the whole mannequin at once, I began to identify learning objectives for medical students and try to build individual organ simulators that would meet these objectives.
I’m currently working on an endoscopy simulator and it’s turning out to be more challenging than I ever expected. I had to learn how to build 3D models, how to manipulate and slice existing models, how to work with 3D printers, CNC routers and vacuum formers.
I first tried to build a stomach and esophagus model by 3D-printing it. However, as much as I love MakerBot Replicator printers, they can only print small items and the actual success rate is only about 60%. I cannot tell you how many times I wanted to kick a 3D printer through a wall after a 4-hour print would fail 3.5 hours into the job.
After realizing that I could not successfully print a usable model on a MakerBot, I spoke with several people at Pittsburgh TechShop and they suggested vacuum-forming my models.
I cut a 3D model of human stomach and esophagus from high-density foam and will try to vacuum-form a prototype in a couple of week. If it works, I’ll make a more permanent mold out of MDF or wood. Once the mold is ready, I’ll break out the Arduino!
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