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Owner prints 3D wheelchair for cat injured in fall from sixth-floor balcony

They say a cat always lands on its feet. When Mozart the Birman fell from a sixth-floor balcony in North Bondi, it seems he did just that.

He was lucky to survive with nothing more than six broken bones in his back feet. Thinking about how to keep his injured feet immobilised while he recovered, Mozart's owners Martin and Elodie Orliac hit on an innovative solution - a 3D-printed cat wheelchair.

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Cat gets 3D printed wheelchair

After surviving a frightening fall out of a Bondi apartment building, Mozart the cat is given the very best in treatment for his recovery.

The 3D printing process creates solid objects from a computer-designed blueprint. It adds layer on layer of material, usually plastic or metal, to create anything from medical models to high heels and coffee cups. 

The process was famously used for the model of 007's classic Aston Martin DB5 made - and blown up for - the James Bond film Skyfall and helped build a house in China in three hours.

"I started researching and found people were building wheelchairs for badly injured cats or handicapped cats," Mr Orliac said. "I found a guy from Israel who had a 3D-printed version ... and I downloaded the file."

Mozart had fallen about 25 metres from the balcony of a flat where the couple was staying with friends.

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"We went to see the new Star Wars and halfway through the movie we received a text message letting us know the cat had fallen off the balcony," Mr Orliac said. "He had broken his two feet but he was fine. According to what the vet said, he was miraculously OK having fallen from that height."

Mozart broke three of the four metatarsal bones in each of his back feet and had metal rods inserted during surgery at the Bondi Junction Veterinary Hospital, where the hit TV series Bondi Vet is filmed. 

The Orliacs were reluctant to keep him caged up for weeks while the fractures healed. A wheelchair would help him explore their new home while keeping him off his injured feet.

There was just one hitch: the accident happened right before Christmas, when many businesses were shut, and the Orliacs had no access to a 3D printer. Fortunately, the young entrepreneurs of the University of NSW stepped up.

Mr Orliac's friend, Joshua Flannery, oversees UNSW's Student Entrepreneur Development program and put out a call for assistance. 

"We do have this very enthusiastic young student entrepreneur community that doesn't shut down at any time of year and I posted Martin's dilemma on our Facebook group," Mr Flannery said. "Before I knew it we had three or four offers for help."

Mr Flannery said 3D printing was increasingly popular in the technology and entrepreneur start-up space as part of the "maker movement".

"The idea is that start-ups are not just about apps and online stuff anymore, it's more about connecting the online with physical objects," he said. "You need the ability to make these objects and that's where the 3D printing has really got a lot of momentum over the last year or two."

A student inventor used his 3D printer at home to make the high-density plastic components of Mozart's wheelchair and Mr Orliac did the rest. 

"It was pretty simple to build," said Mr Orliac, who was still receiving offers to help as people returned from holidays and read about Mozart's plight.

"The wheelchair is actually really solid. He's recovered very quickly and he's now doing really well."

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