Felipe Betancur
2016, Colombia
Developing low cost devices made with household utensils and based on open source software for the disabled
Computer Science

"This recording will self-destruct in a few seconds" was Felipe Betancur´s favorite phrase when he was a child and a loyal fan of science fiction and action series like McGyver, James Bond, Mission Impossible and Inspector Gadget. If he got a toy car as a present, he would take it apart to see how it worked. This curiosity helped him to hone his prototyping and product design abilities. Currently, he is putting his innate skills to work at the Todos Podemos Ayudar Foundation where he creates and adapts low cost, inventions and software technologies in order to offer accessibility and technological integration to people with disabilities.

The patented products currently on the market for the physically and mentally disabled are costly, which makes them inaccessible to many of their potential users. For this reason, Betancur builds his inventions with household utensils and publishes them in open source format to allow anyone to recreate them. For example, he has added a plastic soup spoon to a computer mouse to allow someone without hands to control the mouse with their feet. He has also devised visual doorbells for the deaf, a remote control for operating home appliances, grippers for people missing limbs, a chess set for the blind and the list continues, with over 80 different gadgets.

And in order to teach users how to build and use his inventions, Betancur publishes online tutorials. He also offers face-to-face workshops in 121 of the 125 districts in Antioquia (Colombia) where he explains how to create these devices with open source software and household utensils. This initiative has led to Benancur´s recognition as one of MIT Technology Review, Spanish edition´s Innovators Under 35 Colombia 2016.

Betancur got his start in social innovation distributing presents to children affected by a fire which affected 200 households in his hometown, Medellin (Colombia) in 2007. Betancur recalls: "In that moment of making others happy, I decided that this is how I would make my living. In all of my entrepreneurial classes I was told that charity work is a hobby, but I managed to make it my job." His clients are public and private institutions dedicated to training the disabled.

With products made at home, Betancur is also encouraging savings. "A mouse designed for the disabled can cost 500 dollars (approximately 470 euros), an adjustable gripper, another 100 dollars (90 euros) and voice controlled programs for the blind are also very expensive," the young inventor highlights. But many of these products "can be made at home and perform very well," the Colombian, who created his foundation in 2009, insists.

Betancur has two future goals: to impart his workshops throughout Colombia and to create a self-sustainable microcompany which employs people with disabilities to develop products and commercialize them at affordable prices. The executive president of ProAntioquia and jury member for the Innovators Under 35 Colombia 2016 awards, Rafael Aubad, Betancur´s foundation creates academic, professional and social opportunities for the disabled. "By sharing his knowledge via YouTube, he has achieved the widespread and selfless socialization of his creations and has transferred capabilities to his followers," he concludes.

Discover all of the winning projects from Innovators Under 35 Colombia 2016.