Over the last few years, the number of 3D printed medical innovations are growing explosively, helping people who believed that they couldn’t be helped and vastly improving the success rate of countless surgeries. However, the most unusual medical tool we’ve seen in a long time must surely be the Absorblight, a lamp developed by Antwerp, Belgium-based designer Bruno Vereecke. Instead of helping people with bad eyesight, as you might expect, this unusual lamp is actually intended for the partially deaf and hard-of-hearing people. A 3D printed hearing aid, so to speak.
This unusual creation was designed as an entry for the Additive Design Challenge a competition by Plan C (part of Ovam) with the goal of encouraging 3D printed solutions for ecologically-responsible production. Vereecke, and engineer-architect who works for Vector Architecten in Antwerp by day, felt attracted to that noble goal, and decided to make a personal entry. As he said, he had a very personal reason to work on this particular design. ‘My wife and little son are both hard of hearing, and I constantly see how that impacts our daily lives. I wanted to design a machine that would enable them to hear better and more,’ he says.
As he explains, he enventually chose an unusual solution: a lamp for hearing. ‘I finally chose to design a special lamp, the Absorblight, that could hang over dinner tables. Why a lamp? Light is important for people with bad hearing. It enables them to properly see the facial features and the position of the mouth,’ he explains. ‘And you can hang it on the most important place in family life, the dinner table.’
But this 3D printed lamp does a lot more than simply properly light up your facial features – after all, you wouldn’t need 3D printing to create that. Vereecke therefore also made the lamp functional in another respect. The top side features an intricate design that is especially intended to reduce ambient noise and other sounds coming from various direction. ‘The top side absorbs that environmental noise, that makes it difficult for people to distinguish sounds,’ he explains. The lamp has already been extensively tested in noisy places, where people with hearing difficulties reported a 15 percent increase in what they can understand. It almost creates bubbles of quietness in crowded places.
It’s therefore no wonder that the Absorblight did very well in the Additive Design Challenge. Out of more than sixty entries, Vereecke’s 3D printed lamp was selected as one of the four winners, and the jury said that all four show how 3D printing is more than a hype, that it can truly offer a lot to society and the world around us.
But as you can imagine, the Absorblight was everything but easy to design, and a static object capable of absorbing sound takes some effort. The bar for this challenge was quite high, the designer is therefore ready to admit. ‘A lot was asked of the entries in a very brief period. But at the same time, that was even a luxury: I didn’t have much time to think. So I could just go with my gut instinct,’ the architect says of his victory. While usually designing new setups using existing objects and demands, this also introduced him to a completely new approach. ‘I could let the concept grow in all its facets without limits. From a small seed to a complex story,’ he says.
What’s more, this lamp can be custom made to absorb particular noises, so the Absorblight can theoretically be especially 3D printed for any hearing difficulty a person might be suffering from. A simple, effective and low-cost solution that doesn’t require machinery in your ear.