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At the Purina Better With Pets summit, host John Hockenberry introduced speaker Mark Deadrick as a “rocket scientist.” Mark says he’s actually more of a “rocket surgeon” whose San Diego-based company, 3dyn, uses 3D printers to make parts for aerospace companies. Because of his skill with 3D printers and a tiny Chihuahua named TurboRoo, he found himself rocketing to viral Internet fame this past summer.
To lay the background for this unlikely trajectory, Mark explained that he had been into engineering from childhood. “My dad is a retired electrical engineer who worked for the National Lab in Livermore, California, and my mom emigrated from Germany with a strong technical background,” he said. “There were lots of projects with Legos and tinker toys.” They even had a home computer in the mid 1970s, a rarity then, though it was basically “just a big box that didn’t do a whole lot.”
This led to Mark becoming a mechanical engineer who worked in the automotive industry. He developed a specialization in 3D printing solutions, which in turn led to his being intrigued when he saw a photograph of TurboRoo in a crude harness with wheels on Huffington Post in July of 2014.
He read the full article and discovered that TurboRoo, six weeks old at the time, was born without front legs. The breeders took the baby pup to an Indianapolis veterinarian, where technician Ashley Looper adopted TurboRoo and “tried to find solutions to make the pet mobile.” The image of a Chihuahua puppy in a miniature cart proved irresistible to the Internet. Meanwhile, back in San Diego, Mark thought he could do better.
He and his team designed a cart, printed it (which took only three hours), attached off-the-shelf wheels, and sent it to Indianapolis. It was better, but way too large for TurboRoo. Mark’s next attempt was a new design that was more like training wheels. Finally, he hit on a two-wheeled version with a more form-fitting shape for the dog’s lower body. This one was just right. The audience released a collective “awww” as Mark showed a video of TurboRoo running around with his 3D harness connected to bright green wheels that turned left or right along with the dog.
The video was, of course, another Internet hit, and Mark began to think that there could be a market for prosthetics for pets. “We thought there must be something we could do to advance the industry with some new processes that aren’t a giant box of metal rods,” that most pet prosthetics resemble. He showed solutions he had recently produced upon request, including a cart for a shelter pit bull in Texas named Ransom, who was born with deformed rear legs and left in a dumpster.
Mark also showed some 3D developments in prosthetics for people, including the work of a group called E-Nabling the Future that produces hands or limbs for children in need.
Finally, the real star of the talk appeared. TurboRoo and his owners came on stage and demonstrated the simplicity and effectiveness of Mark’s invention. The crowd erupted with laughter as the Chihuahua barked at John Hockenberry when he came on stage in his wheelchair. “What do you think, buddy, should we do the marathon this year?” quipped the host. It was heartwarming that Purina was able to bring Mark and TurboRoo together at the Better With Pets Summit.