More than 180 participants will gather April 21-23 at New Lab in the Brooklyn Navy Yard for TOM:NYC 2017, a three-day Makeathon, to invent affordable, assistive technology that addresses the needs of people with disabilities. New York’s first TOM Makeathon, courtesy of the Jim Joseph Foundation, and a partnership with Cornell University, will feature thirty different teams of makers and developers. Each eight person team will unite with a “need-knower” (an individual with a deep understanding of a specific disability or challenge) to create prototypes that address that specific need. These prototypes will help promote technological advancement where there is no market interest due to prohibitive cost or the specific nature of a condition.

Hebrew for “repairing the world,” and often called “the TEDx of Social Action,” Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM) was launched in 2014 by the Reut Group. It is now an organized network of maker communities in ten different countries. New York City marks the 21st Makeathon for the TOM movement. The event is a part of a national, multi-week campaign currently operating across six campuses in the United States: UC Berkeley, Northwestern University, UC Irvine, Solomon Schechter High School, Vanderbilt University, and Cornell University.

By bringing the TOM movement to New York, local makers will have the opportunity to collaborate across industry lines. Engineers, developers, physical therapists and product designers are volunteering from a variety of universities, startups, hospitals, and design firms to bring multi-disciplinary experience to the process of creating a range of assistive tech prototypes. By integrating individuals with disabilities onto teams, makers will have the opportunity to develop an in-depth dialogue based on a specific need, and receive feedback throughout the process as the challenge progresses from idea to prototype to product.

Makers and need-knowers will team up to create devices for seventeen challenges, including prototypes for a portable, lightweight ramp that will provide greater mobility in urban environments, adaptable tech for weight machines at the gym, and redesigned wheelchairs that can be propelled without the need to use one’s arms.


Makers will be equipped with a variety of onsite resources and materials. Makerbot will be providing Replicator Z18 and Replicator Plus 3D printers, and full metal and wood shops will include selections of Roland vinyl cutters and Rabbit laser cutters.

The event will challenge teams to create affordable solutions that use cost-effective materials, and will measure the success of each prototype both by how easy they are to buy and how easy they are to share. All designs are available to the public, free of charge.  A good example from a previous Makeathon, a team of makers was challenged to create a robotic arm for a quadriplegic that would not cost more than $15,000. They went above and beyond, and, in three days, created a prototype that only cost $700. In another case, a team of makers assigned to develop a prototype to help children living with Angelman Syndrome made a breakthrough while working a Makeathon in Israel. Their designs were so easy to understand, share, and use, that further development occurred in the U.S. and the final product eventually helped a girl in Brazil!

As with all its Makeathons, TOM’s New York City prototypes will be available in the public domain, circumnavigating the costs associated with ownership of intellectual property. It will also allow individuals around the world to participate in the development process and benefit from the results.

You follow each teams’ designs and build updates on TOM:NYC’s Twitter or Facebook pages.