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3D printing gives SA man new hand



When Richard Van As lost his fingers, he looked for a more affordable alternative to prosthetics. He stumbled across Ivan Owen, a theatrical prop designer who was able to produce working fingers at a fraction of a cost. The only other problem was getting them built, which was where 3D printing from MakerBot came into play.

‚”Lend me a hand‚” has taken on a totally new meaning, thanks to the inspirational project called Robohand. Robohand is a story of collaboration from 10,000 miles apart between Richard Van As, a woodworker from Johannesburg, South Africa, and Ivan Owen, a theatrical prop designer from Seattle, Washington, and made possible via MakerBot’s sharing website and 3D printing on a MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer. Robohand is a mechanical 3D printed hand that you can make on a MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer. The idea was originally conceived by Richard Van As to replace four severed fingers that he lost in a woodworking accident in 2011.

Van As struggled with finding a cost-effective means of creating substitute fingers for those that were gone. He frustratingly discovered that prosthetic fingers, made specifically for him, could cost upward of $10,000 per finger. When Van As found Ivan Owen, a Seattle-based theatrical prop designer who specialized in hands, the two collaborated to create a design for working fingers that could be inexpensively built. After trying numerous types of materials, the pair hit upon the idea of using a 3D printer. ‚”The process of designing and crafting fingers for Rich was taking weeks and months per cycle,‚” noted Bre Pettis, CEO of MakerBot. ‚”For us here at MakerBot, that was too much wasted time. We knew our 3D printer, the MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer, could take this important work to new heights. We saw their collaboration and the work they were doing as ground-breaking, and we asked them to accept a donation from us: one MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer for each of them one in Washington state, and the other in South Africa.‚”

‚”The donation of the MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printers transformed our process,‚” noted Richard Van As. ‚”It turns out the MakerBots were incredibly useful. Just hours after receiving our MakerBots from Brooklyn, N.Y., we were sharing files back and forth, testing the design on one side of the world, and doing another iteration on the other side. Each of us having a MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer took the prototyping process down from weeks to just 20 minutes.‚”

‚”The impact that utilizing the MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer had was incredible,‚” said Ivan Owen. ‚”It dramatically increased the speed at which we could prototype and try out ideas. It gave us the ability to both hold physical copies of the exact same thing, even though we were separated by 10,000 miles.‚”

And that’s only half the story‚Ķ

With Robohand, Richard began to realize how quickly he could refine the design for other people that have lost their fingers, or who were born without fingers. After posting his own story, he received emails and Facebook messages from parents whose children were perfect candidates for a Robohand of their own. One of these children was five-year-old Liam. Liam suffers from a birth defect called Amniotic Band Syndrome. Amniotic Band Syndrome is poorly understood, but the effects of it are pretty clear. Children are often born without extremities, especially fingers and toes, when fibrous bands in the womb prevent these parts from developing normally. It’s this condition that caused Liam to be born with no fingers on his right hand. The cost of purchasing a traditional prosthesis was far too much for the family, especially since Liam is a fast-growing little boy who would outgrow prosthesis in a few months. Liam was given a Robohand in January 2013: just days after Richard and Ivan received their MakerBots. He has grown so much in the past several months that he has already been fitted for his second Robohand. The word spread, and other children with ABS in the Johannesburg area like Liam, wanted their own Robohands, sized just for them. The files, including the assembly instructions, have been posted online on Thingiverse, and people around the globe have downloaded the design more than 3,500 times in just three short months. It is the Robohand Project’s hope that by posting the Robohand plans on Thingiverse, it will empower others around the world to download the design and 3D print Robohands for those who need it. What Is A Robohand? A Robohand is a set of fingers that open and close to grasp things based on the motion of the wrist. When the wrist folds and contracts, the cables attaching the fingers to the base structure cause the fingers to curl. Nearly all the parts of a Robohand are made on MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D printers. Ivan, who played a big part in the initial design stages of Robohand, says he studied the anatomy of crab legs and human fingers to get the basic muscle and tendon structure. The result is a simple assembly that Richard believes anyone can make themselves. While a full set of prosthetic fingers may cost thousands of dollars, all of the Robohand parts that are made on the MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer add up to roughly several dollars ($2.50 USD) in material costs and the total cost is around $150 USD. Finger amputations are the most common amputation in the United States, accounting for more than 90 percent of all amputations. Amniotic Band Syndrome (ABS) affects 1 in 1,200 live births, and of those, about 80 percent of ABS cases involve the loss or malformation of fingers and hands. For these people, Robohand is a great alternative to traditional routes of treatment.

While Robohand has been gaining in popularity these last couple months, there is still a lot to be done. Richard Van As has given hands-on help to a few of the people within his reach, but Robohand was made to be shared. For a full set of parts, 3D printed designs, and assembly instructions, see Robohand on Thingiverse.

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Prepare for deepfake impact

Is the world as we know it ready for the real impact of deepfake? CAREY VAN VLAANDEREN, CEO at ESET SA, digs deeper



Deepfake technology is rapidly becoming easier and quicker to create and it’s opening a door into a new form of cybercrime. Although it’s still mostly seen as relatively harmful or even humorous, this craze could take a more sinister turn in the future and be at the heart of political scandals, cybercrime, or even unimaginable concepts involving fake videos. And it won’t be just public figures that bear the brunt. 

deepfake is the technique of human-image synthesis based on artificial intelligence to create fake content either from scratch or using existing video designed to replicate the look and sound of a real human. Such videos can look incredibly real and currently many of these videos involve celebrities or public figures saying something outrageous or untrue.

New research shows a huge increase in the creation of deepfake videos, with the number online almost doubling in the last nine months alone. Deepfakes are increasing in quality at a swift rate, too. This video showing Bill Hader morphing effortlessly between Tom Cruise and Seth Rogan is just one example of how authentic these videos are looking, as well as sounding. If you search YouTube for the term ‘deepfake’ it will make you realise we are viewing the tip of the iceberg as to what is to come.

In fact, we have already seen deepfake technology used for fraud, where a deepfaked voice was reportedly used to scam a CEO out of a large sum of cash. It is believed the CEO of an unnamed UK firm thought he was on the phone to his boss and followed the orders to immediately transfer €220,000 (roughly US$244,000) to a Hungarian supplier’s bank account. If it was this easy to influence someone by just asking them to do it over the phone, then surely we will need better security in place to mitigate this threat.

Fooling the naked eye

We have also seen apps making DeepNudes where apps were able to turn any clothed person into a topless photo in seconds. Although, luckily, this particular app has now been taken offline, what if this comes back in another form with a vengeance and is able to create convincingly authentic-looking video?

There is also evidence that the production of these videos is becoming a lucrative business especially in the pornography industry. The BBC says “96% of these videos are of female celebrities having their likenesses swapped into sexually explicit videos – without their knowledge or consent”.

recent Californian bill has taken a leap of faith and made it illegal to create a pornographic deepfake of someone without their consent with a penalty of up to $150,000. But chances are that no legislation will be enough to deter some people from fabricating the videos.

To be sure, an article from The Economist discusses that in order to make a convincing enough deepfake you would need a serious amount of video footage and/or voice recordings in order to make even a short deepfake clip.

Having said that, In the not-too-distant future, it may be entirely possible to take just a few short Instagram stories to create a deepfake that is believed by the majority of their followers online or by anyone else who knows them. We may see some unimaginable videos appearing of people closer to home – the boss, our colleagues, our peers, our family. Additionally, deepfakes may also be used for bullying in schools, the office or even further afield.

Furthermore, cybercriminals will definitely use such technology to spearphish victims. Deepfakes keep getting cheaper to create and become near-impossible to detect with the human eye alone. As a result, alt that fakery could very easily muddy the water between fact and fiction, which in turn could force us to not trust anything – even when presented with what our senses are telling us to believe.

Heading off the very real threat

So, what can be done to prepare us for this threat? First, we need to better educate people that deepfakes exist, how they work and the potential damage they can cause. We will all need to learn to treat even the most realistic videos we see that they could be a total fabrication.

Secondly, technology desperately needs to develop better detection of deepfakes. There is already research going into it, but it’s nowhere near where it should be yet. Although machine learning is at the heart of creating them in the first place, there needs to be something in place that acts as the antidote being able to detect them without relying on human eyes alone.

Finally, social media platforms need to realize there is a huge potential threat with the impact of deepfakes because when you mix a shocking video with social media, the outcome tends to spread very rapidly and potentially could have a detrimental impact on society.

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A career in data science – or your money back

The Explore Data Science Academy is offering high demand skills courses – and guarantees employment for trainees



The Explore Data Science Academy (EDSA) has announced several new courses in 2020 that it says will radically change the shape of data science education in South Africa. 

Comprising Data Science, Data Engineering, Data Analytics and Machine Learning, each six-month course provides vital digital skills that are in high demand in the market place.  The full time, fully immersive courses each cost R60 000 including VAT. 

The courses are differentiated from any other available by the fact that EDSA has introduced a money back promise if it cannot place the candidate in a job within six months of graduation and at a minimum annual starting salary of R240 000.

“For South Africans with drive and aptitude, this is the perfect opportunity to launch a career in what has been called the sexiest career of the 21stcentury,” says Explore founder Shaun Dippnall.

Dippnall and his team are betting on the explosive demand for data science skills locally and globally.

 “There is a massive supply-demand gap in the area of data science and our universities and colleges are struggling to keep up with the rapid growth and changing nature of specific digital skills being demanded by companies.  

“We are offering specifically a work ready opportunity in a highly skills deficient sector, and one which guarantees employment thereafter.”

The latter is particularly pertinent to young South Africans – a segment which currently faces a 30 percent unemployment rate. 

“If you have skills in either Data Science, Data Engineering, Data Analytics or Machine Learning, you will find work locally, even globally. We’re confident of that,” says Dippnall.

EDSA is part of the larger Explore organisation and has for the past two years offered young people an opportunity to be trained as data scientists and embark on careers in a fast-growing sector of the economy.  

In its first year of operation, EDSA trained 100 learners as data scientists in a fully sponsored, full-time 12-month course.  In year two, this number increased to 400.  

“Because we are connected with hundreds of employers and have an excellent understanding of the skills they need, our current placement rate is over 90 percent of the students we’ve taught,” Dippnall says. “These learners can earn an average of R360 000 annually, hence our offer of your money back if there is no employment at a minimum annual salary of R240k within six months.

“With one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world – recently announced as a national emergency by the President – it is important that institutions teach skills that are in demand and where learners can earn a healthy living afterwards.”

There are qualifying criteria, however. Candidates need to live in close proximity (within one hour commuting distance), or be prepared to live, in either Johannesburg or Cape Town, and need to be between the ages of 18 and 55. 

“Our application process is very tough. We’ll test for aptitude and attitude using the qualifying framework we’ve built over the years. If you’re smart enough, you’ll be accepted,” says Dippnall.

To find out more, visit

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