When the coronavirus pandemic started, Ethan’s engineering teacher Dr. Daniel Aviv held a class discussion about all the challenges they would face when schools reopen. Ethan was particularly intrigued by the way people touch door handles and then their faces. The potential for spreading germs was alarming.
After numerous modifications and multiple redesigns, 16-year-old Ethan Gotian now has a patent pending for his innovative “Handle Helper,” which allows people to open doors with their forearms instead of their hands. He designed it so people can print it at home with a standard 3D printer for about $2.
When he first started puzzling over the idea, Ethan confessed to wondering if it was something he could solve. “I’m only a student in high school and I knew I could not completely stop the virus. But I recognized that I already had skills in digital fabrication and I wanted to make a difference.”
Ethan spent the past few months redesigning a new version of the device that he could make on his 3D printer. He noticed that the current state of the art had several drawbacks. For instance, many existing devices might have to be drilled into the door, require removing the original doorknob, or were simply bulky and hard to use. He was sure he could do better.
“I was trying to figure out how we could open doors without using the palms of our hands. At first I was thinking of making something to use with your foot.” After doing some research, Ethan realized that while the hands come in contact with many surfaces and therefore carry a high microbial load, forearms generally do not. He decided to design a door opener that used the forearm, hoping to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
After going through several versions and collecting feedback from people who tried them, Ethan came to his patent pending design. Not only is it user friendly, the Handle Helper attaches to any kind of door handle and only takes about 2 hours to print on a typical home 3D printer.
His favorite parts of the newest design? Ethan points out the curved plate where people put their forearms to open the door. “It’s copper infused, so it’s not just made of normal plastic,” said Ethan. “I looked at different kinds of materials and what retains bacteria and other germs.” He found that using readily available copper-infused plastic added an anti-microbial property to the surfaces people touch with their forearms.
But Ethan’s favorite part of the design is the way it attaches to the door handles. “The initial design used screws so it would stay on securely. But then I realized, if a screw was exposed, someone could get scraped.” Ethan became animated as he described his solution. “It was really cool when I thought of using zip tie fasteners coated in rubber tubing. This way the Handle Helper can be used on a variety of door handles. It solves the problem of people injuring themselves and it is much more cost effective.”
Since Ethan wants to make sure that his design stays accessible for people to create on their home 3D printers, he was also excited by the way using all plastic and rubber keeps the cost of the Handle Helper to a minimum.
Like most successful innovators, Ethan gained his skill by lots of trial and error. “I’ve always loved digital fabrication and design. I’ve done tons of similar projects before.” That’s why he knew the best way to perfect his design was to collect user feedback and make changes accordingly.
But the most amazing part of the story is that when Ethan got his Handle Helper working well, he was able to donate a few to his local community as well as create an open source version. “I realized that with the skills I was able to learn, I was able to give back to the community. Even though it is in a small way, it can make a big impact” Ethan shared.
Other applications of this device include use in controlled or sterile environments, clean rooms, thermally isolated rooms, and offices.
So what does he want to be when he grows up? Ethan is still experimenting, but he’s considering computer science, engineering, entrepreneurship and startup innovation.