Identical twins Chris and Nick Fryer share a love of technology, and have built a wide range of cool toys – from drones to robot pets – using their passion, knowledge, and a 3D printer. While not uncommon on its own, doing so comes with a particular set of challenges for Chris and Nick, who were diagnosed with Duchanne muscular dystrophy at eight-years-old. They’re both in wheelchairs, require a 24-hour ventilators to survive, and can only move their mouths and fingertips.
“We’ve always been interested in technology, even when we were very young,” Nick told ABC in Australia, “When I was little, my dad taught me how to make model aircraft out of balsawood and glue, and my disability took that away from me, but now technology has given that ability back.”
What have they made? Well, for a start they customized their own 3D printer, and designed a 3D printed drone. You can see it make a few test flights in the video below. The twins also make things to help with their everyday lives. For example, 3D printed fingertip controls to help use a mouse and computer, and additional parts for a wheelchair, making it easier to adjust its position. By adapting the mouse and the buttons on the wheelchair, Nick made the controls suitable for playing driving games on the computer.
Perhaps most exciting of all is Bonsai Bot. The twins designed and printed the robot, which scoots around the floor, and comes with an ultrasonic sensor mounted on the front. According to Nick, “He’s like a pet you can turn off.” Bonsai Bot is an evolving project, and has gone through a variety of designs. One earlier model was based around an old electric wheelchair, and had a video camera on the top. The idea was to eventually adapt it for use as a telepresence machine.
Twins establish maker group to continue building cool tech
It’s often easy to take new technology for granted, and forget just how much difference it can make to people’s lives. Nick said, “In the past it was virtually impossible for someone like me to actually make something physical, but now with computers, computer-aided design and 3D printers it’s become relatively easy.”
To further their endeavors, the twins have established MESH, the Melbourne Eastern Suburbs Hackers, a maker group where likeminded tinkerers can get together and share technology and designs, with an emphasis on creating hardware and devices for use by disabled people.
Nick believes that one day, technology will eliminate some disabilities, and points out the advances we’re already making in prosthetics as evidence of our growing abilities in this area. “That’s what I want to promote,” he said, “With robotics and all the technology being developed, you can re-enable yourself.”