3D Printing Sustainable Energy Solutions After Hurricane Maria

Hurricane Maria left nearly all people in Puerto Rico without power for months, some places never to have access again and others on a minimum of a five-year timeline before reconnecting to the grid. It also exposed an even deeper problem – the lack of renewable energy alternatives fueling the island with less than 1% of all power coming from renewable sources. A particularly troubling statistic considering Puerto Rico is a place that sees sun and wind all year round. A problem that manifested itself as people waited in 18-22 hour lines at gas stations for Diesel fuel for their generators, cars, and homes to reboot their energy essentials. And for those without generators, lack of power meant lack of refrigeration for necessities like insulin, a major contributor to the 3,000 casualties of Hurricane Maria. The only silver lining is that this tragedy has motivated new renewable energy legislation in Puerto Rico announced this week.

Our team in Puerto Rico decided that Gigabot and 3D printing could get started on making a dent on this problem and set out to 3D print a portable wind turbine with the gusto to charge a cellphone. re:3D hired local maker we met through the Parallel 18 community, a 3D printing enthusiast, founder of MadEra and former Ice Blast HVAC technician, Jean-Yves Auguste Chapiteau, with the knowledge and the know-how to design and 3D print a solution to this challenge.

An Initial Drawing of the 3D Printed Wind Turbine

After 5 months, this 3D printable wind turbine takes 200 hours to print with PLA and costs $200-300 including the electrical components, a cost that is 70-80% less than similar sized turbines on the market. Not to mention, it’s designed for easy installation, it doesn’t require maintenance, and its unique vertical axis design optimizes for capturing omnidirectional wind flow and unpredictable wind patterns common to Puerto Rico. It has the power the power up things such as a tablet, cell phone, and small devices.

This 3D printed wind turbine takes 200 hours to print with PLA and costs $200-300 including the electrical components, a cost that is 70-80% less than similar sized turbines on the market.

While still portable, Gigabot’s large format, human-scale 3D printing capabilities expanded this wind turbine’s boundaries of what was possible to be created and empowered the creation of a bigger, more powerful wind turbine.

Watch the wind turbine in action!

Compared to his past experience 3D printing with desktop printers, Jean shared it was an impactful difference to print with such bigger parameters which led to bigger opportunities to 3D print not just a bigger solution, but a better solution for a difficult problem. But as Jean says, “There’s no difficult job if you have the right tools”.

“There’s no difficult job if you have the right tools”.
Jean Auguste Chapiteau

HiveCube: Building a Safer Future for Puerto Rico

Maria Velasco was hunkered down with family on the west coast of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez when Hurricane Maria hit.

“The first 24 hours there was no contact with anything outside of your neighbors.”

She described how, in the immediate aftermath of the storm, they could venture a little further from home each day to assess the damage. Families relied on word of mouth to check the wellbeing of their loved ones; people would drop by to let others know they were alive.

“It’s a humbling experience,” Velasco recounts. “You realize what you need and what you don’t need in life.”

It was this focus on the essentials in a time of crisis that got Velasco and her business partner, Carla Gautier, thinking. Channeling the spirit of resiliency on the island following the disaster, Gautier and Velasco vowed to stay and help rebuild in their own way, to make the future safer for the people of Puerto Rico.

The Beginnings of the Hive

Gautier has a particular skillset that makes her well-suited for the challenge: she’s an architect.

While completing on her Bachelor’s of Science in Architecture in Boston, she spent four months in Berlin, traveling around Europe to study alternative types of architecture for low-income communities. It was on this tour that she was first exposed to structures made from shipping containers. Later, during her Masters of Architecture, she spent time in West Africa – in Benin – studying informal construction and development.

These two exposures later came together to form the foundation of HiveCube.

After completing her master’s, Gautier started working for FEMA, getting an up-close view of the destruction around the island post-Maria. On this assignment, Gautier saw firsthand a major factor that compounded the destruction of the storm: buildings not being up to code.

She and Velasco did some research, discovering that 55% of housing in Puerto Rico is constructed informally. Some areas of the island may not have stood a chance against the force of Maria, but surely structures being built to code and with hurricanes in mind should be a given on the island, the pair mused.

These three experiences in Gautier’s architecture career – her work on low-income housing in Europe, her study of informal construction in West Africa, and her exposure to the prevalence of informal construction on her home turf – came together to form the seed of an idea.

Gautier wanted to bring her knowledge of simplistic yet effective designs for low-income housing from Europe to help people in her homeland, to create affordable housing built to withstand ferocious storms that didn’t compromise on quality or comfort.

The idea for HiveCube began to take shape.

A Jumpstart from Parallel18

Hurricane Maria tested the resiliency of Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rico stepped up to the challenge.

San Juan-based startup accelerator Parallel18 created a new program post-Maria specifically to harness the energy and drive to bounce back that they saw amongst the population. Called Pre-18, it was a separate entity from their typical accelerator program, where they mentored around 40 companies from Puerto Rico each working in their own way to rebuild and kickstart the economy after the storm. HiveCube was one of the companies accepted.

Something I'm excited about in HiveCube is their team. They have two very energetic, capable founders in Carla and Maria.
Lucas Arzola is the Director of Operations at Parallel18
HiveCube founders Velasco and Gautier with Sebastian Vidal, Executive Director of Parallel18

HiveCube and the other companies of Pre-18 epitomize the buoyant spirit of Puerto Ricans following one of the worst disasters on the island in recent history.

“We had our campaign called ‘El Boricua se las Inventa’ – Puerto Ricans Get Creative,” explains Arzola. “We’ve seen that creativity happen all around us, and HiveCube is just one example of a company that was born from the hurricane and created a solution that now is growing and thriving.”

Companies from the Pre-18 program were then eligible to be selected for the following Parallel18 cohort; HiveCube was one of 16 that made this jump. “We’ve never as many Puerto Rican companies in the Parallel18 cohort as we did in this one,” Arzola muses.

The Pre-18 program was so successful that Parallel18 has decided to make it a regular thing. “It’s going to be an official program we’re going to do once a year,” explains Arzola. “So the idea is that we can do one Pre-18 cohort for every two Parallel18s.”

HiveCube’s extended time with the Parallel18 team super-charged their pace of progress as well as reinforced the value of the accelerator program.

“We’ve seen them evolve and grow significantly in a short amount of time, so it sort of validates our program as well,” says Arzola. “There’s no better validation than just seeing thriving companies that will be able to contribute to Puerto Rico and grow from this point on, because we’re able to support them in this stage where they need help the most. That’s why we do what we do.”

Parallel18 is also where Gigabot enters the HiveCube story.

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The duo was having a tough time pitching investors: their vision was getting distorted along the way, often manifesting in others’ minds as a less-aesthetic, lower-quality “trailer.” But what the two had in mind was so much more – they just couldn’t figure out how to communicate this in a way that resonated with prospective investors.

Gautier and Velasco experienced firsthand the phenomenon of using a 3D printed prototype in lieu of a digital one. The digital renderings on a computer screen or projector weren’t getting them the reactions in meetings that they wanted, but perhaps a physical model could convince people of their vision, they thought.

They used Gigabot to print a basic architectural model of a Hive, and began taking it to meetings with investors and communities working on reconstruction. The physical model excited people in a way that digital drawings and renderings hadn’t.

Suddenly, in Velasco’s words, “everybody wanted to take the meetings, everybody wanted one.”

There was something about being able to turn a physical object over in their hands that clicked with people. The surge in enthusiasm over the model pushed the pair to continue driving forward and make the concept a reality. With the first hurdle crossed, they now had to bring their vision to life.

Building a Hive

HiveCube works with used shipping containers, lending a second life to  structures that would otherwise end up in container graveyards.

They buy a certified-as-seaworthy shipping container, verify that the container is structurally sound, and begin preparing it for its new life. The container is given holes for windows and a door, a fresh coat of paint, and the interior refurbished and outfitted with living fixtures.

The prototype Hive that they constructed for their August launch party is what will become their Basic Model: a two bedroom, one bathroom unit with a kitchen and living room in the center.

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They’re filling a major gap on the island that contributed to the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria: creating housing that’s code-compliant but also affordable for the general population.

“We believe in their concept: the fact that they’re bringing an architecture background to what they’re doing and are designing hurricane-resistant homes that can provide accessible housing,” Parallel18’s Arzola explains. “That’s really relevant to one of the big problems that appeared after the hurricane: the fact that the median income in Puerto Rico is low compared to the cost of housing. There is a need for more affordable options in the market.”

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Their goal is to create something that’s more than just a safe shelter. “We’ve been trying to make sure that we build something that’s actually nice to live in, not just something cheap and fast,” Velasco explains. “Something that people would want to own and they’re proud of and that they feel comfortable and safe with.”

The pride for their island shines through HiveCube’s mission to create safe, affordable housing for Puerto Ricans.

As Velasco puts it, “We’re going to try and build something that can actually help the community be stronger, if something like this – God forbid – happens again.”

On December 13th, HiveCube took home the People’s Choice Award at Parallel18’s Generation Five Demo Day, an award bestowed by an audience vote.

“It speaks to how relatable and relevant the solution is to Puerto Rico,” muses Arzola. “So yeah, we’re very proud.”

To stay in the loop with HiveCube’s progress and home releases, sign up for their newsletter at: www.hivecubepr.com
For sales and other inquiries, contact them through their website, Facebook, or Instagram

Hurricane Maria forces Parknet to Pivot, Gigabot Lowers Risk

Antonio Ramos takes a deep breath. “It was really depressing.”

A native Puerto Rican, he was living in San Juan when Hurricane Maria hit. He described the sentiment on the island when the storm was forecasted: Irma had just passed by with little effect, and the general feeling was that Maria would also spare them. The island is used to storms, he explains, and they usually bounced back after big ones in a couple weeks.

But this one turned out to be different.

He remembers seeing the radar images of the vastness of the tempest bearing down on them, their island dwarfed next to it. The dire situation quickly became apparent. Antonio recalls his reaction: “Okay, we’re screwed.”

It wasn’t just Antonio that had to weather the storm – he had a company to tend to as well.

From Capstone Project to Company

Antonio and his cofounder, Alan Lopez, started Parknet when they were still engineering students in university. They used the idea for their Capstone Project, building a controller that could connect to the Internet using Wi-Fi or SIM cards and control a boom barrier or electromagnetic gate – “really anything that could be activated,” Antonio explains.

They approached a local company with their idea, proposing to them that they could reprogram their controller in real time.

“They actually challenged us,” recounts Antonio. “They told us, ‘Hey, that can’t be done.’” The company said the only way to reprogram it was to go into a computer, use their software, and reprogram the whole controller.

Antonio didn’t balk. “I told them, ‘No, we can actually hack your controller.’” The company didn’t budge.

“So, it was a challenge,” says Antonio. “And challenge accepted. Something that we’ve learned is that you never challenge an engineer and say that they can’t do something, because they will do it.”

Six months later, Antonio and Alan demoed for the company their “unhackable” controller working as they had originally pitched. Parknet was born.

Maria's Arrival

Parknet makes cloud-based controlled access systems which provide facility administrators the ability to control access points – think entry doors or parking gates – in real-time, through the use of a web-based app accessible from any device with an internet connection.

Antonio and Alan explored different routes for how to market their system in Puerto Rico.

“At first, we wanted to use it for a parking lot payment system. But we found a bit of resistance here from the parking administrators,” Alan explains. They shifted their focus to gated communities and apartment complexes.

They joined the Generation Four cohort of Puerto Rican incubator program Parallel18 in August. And then, in September, Maria arrived.

“After the hurricane, we had no cell phone communication, we had no Internet, no power. It was really depressing,” Antonio recounts. “Our business needs Internet. It’s an Internet of Things device, so it needs Internet to operate and it needs power. So we were kind of stuck there.”

They pivoted yet again, strategizing how to stay afloat and retain their employees.

“We had to survive,” Antonio says. “The sales cycle for gated communities and apartment complexes can be from four to six months. It takes a lot of time and a lot of meetings and convincing.” But they found that with commercial spaces, the process was faster. “We started selling to co-working places and offices.” One such customer is Parallel18 itself.

Antonio stopped paying himself in order to keep his team on payroll. “We were in survival mode,” he explains. He began working in generator repairs, a service in high demand on the island following Maria.

They weathered the monster storm and its lingering aftermath, and several months later the company was back on its feet. As Parknet started demanding more from Antonio, he wrapped up his generator repair work and went back to it full time.

3D Printing Before Moving to Manufacturing

In the Parallel18 program, Parknet crossed paths with re:3D.

They began using Gigabot to 3D print enclosures for their printed circuit boards, or PCBs. “We can build a box in like, two hours, and we can test it before we send it to the manufacturer,” Antonio explains. “The manufacturer had a minimum of 10 boxes, and if it didn’t work correctly, we were going to waste 10 boxes.”

Once they finalized the enclosure design, they moved to a sheet metal forming process, but they continued to turn back to Gigabot for custom requests. “One of the advantages is that we can offer a customer a custom design,” Antonio says. “If they want a diamond shaped scanner, we can build it for them. If they want it embedded into a gypsum board, we can also do that.”

One Parknet customer in San Juan who has requested a diamond-shaped scanner is El Almacén, a speakeasy-style bar tucked away just off the buzzing square of La Placita.

They’re using Parknet’s technology to text message patrons digital keys and grant them entry to the bar with the swipe of a phone. The door unlocks and the e-key-holder descends into an old-timey themed lounge.

It also gives the bar the marketing opportunity to track and quantify their marketing. They can compare how many people the text message key was sent to and how many people used it, rather than their old method, which was a post on their Facebook page with the password for the night. There is also the location-based aspect of it – if a patron gets within a certain radius of the bar, their phone will remind them that they have a key to the nearby locale.

Moving Forward Post-Maria

It’s just past the one year anniversary of Hurricane Maria’s landfall.

Puerto Rico has recovered fairly well given the incredible destruction of the storm. The land itself looks lush and green, and the people I spoke with are propelled by a resilient spirit and a desire to rebuild and strengthen their island for the future.

Antonio is one of those very people. Parknet came out the other side of Maria arguably a stronger company, with more applications and a wider customer base than he and Alan had originally imagined. It’s been a big cycle for them that has taken them through multiple major pivots in the company’s lifespan.

After the trials of Maria, Parknet is now focused back on gated communities and apartment complexes and is ready to tackle their original vision of parking lots.

Learn more about Parknet: https://site.xubo.io/

Learn more about Parallel18: https://www.parallel18.com/

Medical Models For Disaster Response: Why We Designed and 3D Printed Flexible Vaginas

Nearly a year ago, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico with its Category 5  power. The entire electrical grid was destroyed, water systems were inoperable, 95% of cellular sites were broken and 400 miles of Puerto Rico’s 16,700 miles of roads were too damaged to drive on causing thousands of people and communities isolated from communications and disaster relief. 

While the island experienced many problems, many problem solvers stepped up to respond and local grassroots relief and recovery efforts formed immediately. One local organization, Colectiva Feminista en Construccion – a political organization advocating for women’s rights and protesting capitalistic and patriarchal oppression– opened up a fund and set up a center in an abandoned building in San Juan to distribute supplies to the community. But they didn’t stop there.“We don’t want to be just a band-aid,” shared one of the organizers, Maricarmen Rodriguez, “We want to help everyone and create a more inclusive society. Hurricane Maria cleared the makeup that was covering up problems that were already in Puerto Rico.” 

One of those problems surfaced while providing feminine hygiene products and realizing the need for medical models to teach about aspects of the vagina and how to use products like Diva Cups. More than that, Maricarmen wanted to find a way to talk about menstrual cups and sexual education that is often taboo in society. 

Could 3D printed vaginas be a tool for more grassroots sexual education?

When you look for your typical sex ed class medical models, they can cost hundreds per piece and the industry is monopolized by a small number of manufacturers. These models are made from unforgiving plastics that lack usability and plasticity to use to demonstrate with products like Diva Cups. Not to mention, in post-hurricane conditions, importing products like these would have been nearly impossible and taken months to arrive.

So Maricarmen reached out to re:3D in Puerto Rico and our teammate Alessandra set out to 3D print vaginas.

Right now, there are no open source vagina medical models so Alessandra started from scratch by creating a 2D picture by tracing from a medical book. She then used Rhino to create a 3D model.

The 3D printed vaginas – printed from flexible materials such as Ninjaflex and semi Flex making them more durable and less likely to break – provide more realistic and life-like medical models.

These 3D printed medical models have the ability to be just as realistic with attention to detail at a fraction of the cost: only $20-30 per print. The prints took about 3 hours on Gigabot – making body parts accessible nearly on demand.

This opens up new possibilities for schools, hospitals, and grassroots organizations to have access to affordable teaching tools – before a disaster and to aid in recovery and education after and beyond. 

Watch the 1-minute video of Alessandra explaining the 3D printed vaginas

re:3D had a #HurricaneStrong year in 2017 – our Houston team was hit by Harvey and our team in Puerto Rico withstood Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. June 1st marks the official beginning of hurricane season in Puerto Rico and in this series, we are highlighting stories of impact and insight to encourage #3DPrintedPreparedness this year.

3D Printing Connectivity In Post-Maria Puerto Rico

re:3D had a #HurricaneStrong year in 2017 – our Houston team was hit by Harvey and our team in Puerto Rico withstood Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. June 1st marks the official beginning of hurricane season in Puerto Rico and in this series, we are highlighting stories of impact and insight to encourage #3DPrintedPreparedness this year.

It’s no surprise that the 3.4 million people in Puerto Rico struggled to communicate after Hurricane Maria.

90% of cell towers were damaged, satellite phones were rendered useless, and over 1,000 wireless antennas were lost. For the wireless antennas in operation, they require 8-9 generators powered by diesel fuel – which not only costs a whopping $150 or so an hour but is also particularly problematic when Puerto Rico experienced a massive shortage of gasoline that is needed to fuel the Island until the infrastructure is fixed. The communication infrastructure was severed and the use of typical WiFi that requires sending a large amount of data was impossible. But some entrepreneurs decided to see this problem as an opportunity and created a connectivity solution.

Founders Jonathan Diaz Sepulveda, Victor Santiago, and Saul Gonzalez of a local software development startup – ALQMY – used Gigabot to 3D print a prototype and design Low-band Frequency Network that is uniquely capable to function in the post-hurricane conditions. 3D printing gave the team access to the technology needed to create products quickly and rapid prototype working devices.

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The devices were designed using Rhino 6 and printed in PLA.

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These walkie-talkie-esque prototype products called Firestarters were equipped to operate on lower bandwidth frequencies, similar to the communication technology used in pagers. The devices were able to create a decentralized wireless network without having to depend on the decimated infrastructure, and had the capability to connect people within 1.5 miles of each. Not only were people able to connect by sending SMS communications but the devices also enabled sharing of GPS information. Puerto Ricans would be able to coordinate allocating petroleum for those in need, bringing food to one another, and connecting with loved ones about their ongoing living conditions and safety.

While this product is operational and still in prototype stage, the founders have entered the next phase of manufacturing Firestarter at scale as part of their bigger vision to make these devices available to people as preventative emergency measures before it’s too late. This access to connectivity in emergency situations is particularly close to Saul’s heart – his community in Utuado had to bury a loved one in a backyard without being able to contact supportive emergency services. Firestarters are affordable products that come with the peace of mind of community connectivity and are still relevant today in Puerto Rico as recovery continues to be a work in progress. Connectivity continues to be an obstacle, and yet is imperative for ongoing recovery which is especially top of mind as hurricane season begins again starting June 1st.  Beyond Puerto Rico, ALQMY is sharing this technology with the world by making it open-source so others can proactively learn from Puerto Rico’s experience and prepare for emergency situations.

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It’s entrepreneurs like these who are coming together and building a more resilient Puerto Rico, utilizing technology to lead the next generation of innovation. According to Saul, the entrepreneurial ecosystem here is more positioned than ever to flourish – evolving into a culture of tight-knit community and open idea sharing. They are participants in one of the most innovative projects in Puerto Rico where the city of Bayamon has taken on a project to become the world’s smartest city by launching the first Internet of Things lab, applying technology to things like agricultural technology, transportation, and more. Beyond producing Firestarter, ALQMY offers software development services at affordable prices. Get in touch to learn more about them, their services, and the Firestarter prototype.

3D Printing Contest: Fast Furniture Challenge

About The 3D Printing Fast Furniture Challenge:

re:3D had a #HurricaneStrong year in 2017 – our Houston team was hit by Harvey and our team in Puerto Rico withstood Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. June 1st marks the official beginning of hurricane season in Puerto Rico and we want to open a global challenge to create a 3D printed solution to have “fast furniture” available if we undergo another hurricane.

Hurricane Maria destroyed over 70,000 homes in Puerto Rico – and the furniture in it. Our team in Puerto Rico had boots on the ground and was exploring using 3D printing for recovery efforts and one of the number one asks from the community was 3D printing solutions for destroyed furniture. So our teammate Alessandra set on a mission to create 3D printed furniture joints that could be made as quickly and cheaply as possible to then quickly assemble basic furniture that can withstand 150 pounds using pre-cut wood from Home Depot. Needless to say, this is not a simple task – but we believe in solving complex problems and as a community-driven organization, we’re opening up this up challenge to the global community in hopes of identifying a solution to be prepared for this year’s hurricane season. We know this product would be good for a womb chair. If you’re looking for such a product, this is a good womb chair replica for sale near you.

3D Printed Furniture Joints
3D Printed Furniture Joints

3D Printing Fast Furniture Challenge

Goal

Create modular 3D printed joints in PLA that can effortlessly be assembled into a 36”x36” table with pre-cut wood from Home Depot under 1 hour.

Application: Open application for any person or groups worldwide.

Requirements

  • 3D joints must take less than 48 hours to print and cost under $20 to print.
  • Materials: pre-cut wood from Home Depot. No nails, screws or glue should be used for assembly
  • Furniture must be able to withstand 150 pounds
  • Easy assembly and disassembly
  • Watertight STL files submitted to info@re3d.org with a digital 24”x36” presentation board with visual content (renders, drawings, assembly steps…) explaining your design.

Contest Timeline

  • Applications Open: June 8th
  • Submit STL files and presentation board by August 8th
  • Semi-Finalists Selected For Printing Their Design
  • Winner announced August 29th

Awards

  • re:3D will identify the top 3 table joint designs to be printed on Gigabot and assembled using wood sourced from Home Depot. The design that can bear the most load after assembly will be deemed the winner.
  • Winner will get a price of $250 USD
  • Judging Criteria For Semi-Finalists
    • Creativity
    • Well organized, coherent presentation board
    • .stl quality: watertight, containing little to no errors.
    • Ability to 3D print joints without supports.
    • Estimated print time
  • Judging Criteria For The Winner
    • Assembled table using pre-cut wood will be able to withstand 150 pounds
    • Assembly difficulty
    • Print Cost
    • Print Time

What To Take Into Consideration

  • PLA is weak against tensile forces
  • 3D printing creates objects with layers which is also their weak point: 3D prints tend to break along the layers just as wood breaks along the fiber direction.
  • Different wood sizes won’t fit on the same basic pipe-like joints

Next Steps