From Closed to Open (2019)

From Closed to Open (2019)

Callum Allen

From Closed to Open: Democratising medical devices using additive manufacture and open source development and distribution systems (2019)

Increasingly, the open source movement has enabled users around the world to freely develop and distribute their own products. Initially, this approach was limited to software, however the continued improvement of 3D printing technologies, online file hosting platforms and e-commerce services has enabled the same model to be applied to the development of physical products as well. From a medical perspective this is particularly exciting, as commercially available medical equipment is often very expensive, limiting access to many practicing clinicians, particularly in developing countries.

The Openpupil project was initiated by Wellington based ophthalmologist Dr Jesse Gale who was fascinated by melanopsin activity in the optic nerve, and the opportunity it offers for clinical research, particularly to understand sleep disorders, degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer dementia, and different optic nerve diseases. However, commercial pupil devices don’t provide the blue light required for melanopsin testing, while electrophysiology devices cost over $100,000. Jesse approached the University seeking the multidisciplinary expertise needed to create an open-source pupilometer with melanopsin-testing capability. The project was carried out by a team including optics, electronic and computer systems engineers, clinicians and industrial designers.

Callum Allen was keen to pick up the design challenge and to explore the opportunities these emerging technologies provide in the design, development and distribution of a low cost, ergonomic and portable open source pupilometer; in the form of a robust and easy-to-assemble kit set. Rather than reinventing the wheel, Callum quickly developed the ‘magpie’ like mentality these platforms offer – picking and choosing from open forums for file sharing and component configuration through online supply chains.

The online sourcing of electronic components precipitated a special design challenge. Unlike mass-produced products with custom-made components, the constant updating and obsolescence of components available online needs to be accommodated in an open-source product, with a design that is adaptable to new component configurations. While optical devices like cameras, binoculars and VR viewers provided useful design precedents, it became evident that a new design archetype was needed.

The device was ultimately conceived as a ‘utility box’ format to facilitate the reconfiguration of electronic components as updated ones become available. The ‘box’ configuration also makes it easier for other users to ‘hack’ the device to their own specifications, increasing the versatility of the design.

The design and development process called on low fidelity FDM printing for rapid prototyping iterations, before optimising end parts for distributed additive manufacture (DfAM) and assembly with an open source electronic package (webcams, filters, LEDs, battery, Raspberry Pi) to form a fully contained and functional product, controlled by a laptop through a WiFi network – and all for less than $1500.

While the immediate goal of the project was to develop the physical ‘Openpupil’ device, the real long-term intention is to use open-source technology to democratise interesting new clinical science. A cloud-based data collection system in the form of a smartphone app would enable clinicians to collect, quantify and share their findings in an online biometric database, laying the foundations for a globally connected research community, which may eventually lead to enhanced diagnostic capabilities in an as yet, unexplored range of new clinical settings.


CAD modelling software – Rhino 5, Thingiverse file sharing.


3D printers – FDM printing UP BOX, SLS printing (nylon PA12) from Shapeways (EOS), i.materialise, Treatstock, 3D Hubs.

Project level

Master of Design Innovation Research Portfolio submission (MDI), supervisor Simon Fraser in collaboration with:

Opthalmologist: Dr Jesse Gale, Capital Eye Specialists, Wellington, NZ.

Optics, electronics and software engineering: Dr. J. Quilty, H. Colenso, M. Quinton. VUW Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science

Proof of technical concept: Dr. E. Eldridge, Dr G. Gouws, Dr C. Moore, S. Pathmanathan, K. Polutea, M. Coop. VUW Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science

External Partners

The project was supported by the MedtechCoRE. Thanks also to Wellington Free Ambulance and the Wellington Rugby Club for their support.