Wheelchair athlete Aerelle Jones is not a pioneer in racing, but her family is one of the world’s leading innovators of the equipment that pushes her sport forward.
There are currently two parties making wheelchair racing gloves by using 3D printers.
One is the University of Illinois, a leader in wheelchair athletics whose business school has a 3D printing lab for students.
The other is Jones’ family, which conducts its work out of the public library in Nicholasville.
The new Jessamine County Public Library was built to include its very own 3D printing lab, complete with an object scanner and multiple 3D printers, and that is where you can find Jones and her family working to design state-of-the-art racing gloves.
“There are actual 3D-printed gloves that are being used right now in training by the team that is going to Rio for the United States,” her father, Raymond Jones, said. “It’s kind of fun to think that here we are in little Jessamine County in a public library and we are working on a project that is being used by the U.S. team that’s going to the paralympics this year.”
The 2016 Summer Paralympics take place Sept. 7-18 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The glove project is spearheaded by Jones’ father and younger brother, Garrett, and the team is making progress.
They began by taking molds of Aerelle Jones’ hands to use for scanning. Problems popped up in getting to tight and enclosed spaces, but they moved past those by taking multiple scans and piecing them together.
The result is a digital outline of each of her hands that they can then build custom racing gloves around.
This might seem like a lot of trouble for a set of gloves, but having the right set can make all the difference in racing results.
The U.S. Paralympic Team, the University of Illinois and the Joneses want to use 3D-printed gloves instead of those already available because 3D gloves can be fit to each individual’s needs and because the material used is lighter and more durable.
In push-wheelchair racing, speed is determined by the strength and efficiency of the athlete. The racing gloves hold a strike pad that racers use to hit the rim on the wheel and propel the chair.
“When you consider that you’re taking your hand and you are stretching it way behind your back and then bringing it all the way to the rim thousands of times per race,” Raymond Jones said, “that lighter glove makes it easier. The second is that there’s not give in (a custom-designed) glove, so you are applying more force to the rim.”
Traditional gloves that racers order are based only on hand size and do not form as well to the hand, leaving space for cuts and blisters.
University of Illinois student Arielle Rausin came up with the idea to 3D print racing gloves. The 3D-printed gloves are made with a material called Polylactic acid, or PLA, which weighs on average a third of the next-lightest gloves available.
The Jones process advances the Illinois project, creating a replica of the hand and then using software to fit that hand exactly, even an irregular one.
In a sport consisting exclusively of people with disabilities, creating equipment only for those with uniform hands does not serve everyone. Whether hands are irregular or have limited movement because of disabilities, the Jones process of making custom gloves will work in any case.
The Jones’ goal is to streamline a process of scanning and making custom gloves and then partnering with Illinois to make them more accessible to everyone in the sport.