Tommy and Gianluca Nicoletti visit the +Lab facilities

The +ABILITY project brings people and technology closer, breaking down barriers and giving value to diversity

A few weeks ago, Tommy Nicoletti and his father Gianluca came to visit the Politecnico di Milano +Lab. Gianluca met with Marinella Levi, director of +Lab, at the Macerata TEDx event in March. Marinella’s passion and the impact of what she told the audience about her 3D printing lab were enough to bring the famous journalist to develop a strong personal interest in +Lab, so strong that he decided he wanted to organise a visit in person, along with his son.

+ABILITY is a project that Marinella and the guys working at +Lab conceived four years ago. Their aim was to build a bridge bringing people and technology closer. To use technology to create a more equal and inclusive society, breaking down the barriers. To give value to diversity, find the beauty that resides in everyone, to use the positive energies to study problems and find solutions. To use the 3D printer to do different, beautiful and useful things aimed at solving large and small difficulties we all have to face. And most importantly, to do it together. 

During these four years of +ABILITY, +Lab has made many things. Literally. So many items thought up to give people with special needs their quality of life back and bring down the stigma tied to “disease” and “diversity”. 

Thanks to the “Noi non ci fermiamo” (“We won’t stop”) project, for example, people who suffer from rheumatism have been able to use design items tailored to every individual user. Shoehorns, vegetable peelers, bottle-openers and many other products for everyday life, entirely customisable online and downloadable for free in .stl format, ready to be printed by the user independently.

Another example is “Stampa 3D e Medicina” (“3D Printing and Medicine”), simple and low-cost production methods for 3D anatomical models. The reduction in production costs for these models, used for pre-surgery practice or teaching at university, allows the production of pieces designed for every single patient, and thus enormously more effective in their purpose.

But let us get back to Tommy, whom we had left wandering around the +Lab facilities. He was wearing a white lab coat, surrounded by the young workers at the laboratory, while he was busy modelling in 3D on a graphics tablet, kneading the clay for printing items. Tommy is autistic. There is still a strong stigma about people like Tommy, because we struggle to understand how autistic minds work. Gianluca Nicoletti attempts to explain it by telling us that his son sees thoughts as if they were real objects scattered throughout a room, becoming euphoric about the particular level of crowdedness of his space.

Gianluca’s idea stems from this analogy, which takes form with +Lab: downloading the thoughts of an autistic person. To use 3D technology to give a shape to Tommy’s thoughts, to see them as objects, hold them in your hands and experience them in their new tangible form. Tommy and Gianluca were thrilled, holding that little elephant, the same elephant they had seen so often in their minds, the one that, at that moment, they could hold in their hands, ready to colour it in, just like in Tommy’s drawings. The +Lab slogan could not be more accurate: “If you can dream it, you can print it”.

The news about a girl who recently went missing in the woods came out a few days ago. Unfortunately, people who suffer from autism often get lost and, although most of them end up being found, in some cases, this does not happen. Hence Gianluca Nicoletti’s appeal, made by +Lab to the Minister for Healthcare, for a study aimed at developing a GPS tracker for autistic children. An important foundation has already shown interest in supporting this idea to which +Lab wishes to contribute as well as to Nicoletti’s entire “Cervelli Ribelli” project, in this case by proposing to develop a new approach for the design, usability and most importantly customisation of an array of ‘covers’ for the electronic component of the device. These will be actual design items, capable of responding to a variety of specific parameters, first of which the need to not be modified or removable, and for it to be possible to differentiate the portability based on the needs of children across the entire autistic spectrum.

To learn more:
Il manifesto di +ABILITY:
Cervelli Ribelli Project:
Gianluca Nicoletti’s Blog: