Oct. 5, 2021 — Legos are a playroom staple in many American homes. But while most kids were building cars and spaceships out of these colorful connectable blocks, 14-year-old Easton LaChappelle was making a robotic hand.
“It was kind of a far-fetched idea,” says the now 25-year-old inventor.
Growing up in Mancos (a small rural community in the southwestern Colorado), LaChappelle was able to dream up countless inventions.
” I left the school system pretty quickly,” he said. “In my freshman year of high school, I was already taking senior level math classes and asking myself, ‘What’s next? “http://www.webmd.com/”
With little stimulation outside, LaChappelle decided that he would learn engineering and robotics by himself.
” I took apart everything that I could find,” he recalled. “I went to Walgreens to get all the disposable cameras that they were going to toss away and to remove all electronics. “
LaChappelle’s first robotic hand used Legos as a plastic support base. He used electrical tubing to make the fingers, and fishing line to attach the tendons. These thick tissues connect bones with muscles and allow the fingers and thumb to move.
A glove controlled the movement of his robotic hand.
The robotic hand would follow my movements when I move my hand. I could grab objects. LaChappelle states, “I could shake hands with me.”
He invented ways to improve the hand as soon as he made it. He added finger joints to the hand and an opposable thumb. He then wondered: “What if it could be 3D-printed? “
A 3D printer allows inventors to create three-dimensional working objects using a digital model. LaChappelle got his first 3D printer as a 16th birthday present, and he was off.
His very first printer was primitive.
” “It was like an electric hot glue gun with motors attached,” he said. “But it was running 24/7 in my bedroom. “
He created a 3D hand and an arm that could shake hands and toss a football. In 2013, his robotic arm won first place for engineering in the Colorado State Science Fair. It placed second at an International Science and Engineering Fair later that year. That same arm shook hands with former President Barack Obama at the 2013 White House Science Fair.
Changing Lives One Limb at A Time
A chance meeting at the 2013 Colorado State Science Fair would change the path of LaChappelle’s career. He was approached by a little girl who was curious about his invention. She was wearing a prosthetic on her right arm that was little more than a claw. He observed her movements and opened the prosthetic.
“It was extremely eye-opening for me,” LaChappelle says.
He learned from the girl’s parents that the prosthetic arm cost $80,000. The limb was uncomfortable and bulky, even though it came with a high price tag. The limb was also bulky and uncomfortable. She would eventually outgrow it and will need a new one.
He said that he couldn’t accept it, but that he knew that he could make a more affordable and user-friendly arm.
” “That was when I decided to dedicate my life to improving prosthetic technology,” he said.
In 2014, at age 18, LaChappelle started his own company called Unlimited Tomorrow, with financial backing from life coach Tony Robbins.
LaChappelle was the one who developed the technology to make custom limbs at a fraction the cost of existing ones in the early years of his company’s existence.
The model he created lets people scan their limbs in their own home with a 3D scanner, instead of having to go to a specialist. The company then prints, assembles and tests the limb. The limb is then shipped to the customer. By streamlining the production process, LaChappelle brought the cost of his prosthetic limb, called TrueLimb, down to $8,000.
His initial customer was a young girl called Momo who was missing a part of her right hand and arm. In 2017, met in Seattle, where the inventor helped to fit Momo with her new prosthetic arm.
TrueLimb feels and looks like a human arm down to the fingernails (which are able to be polished). It can be controlled by the user’s muscles just like a real limb.
When someone is fitted with a TrueLimb they must go through muscle training. This involves sensors in the socket learning to detect muscles.
” When someone gets their device for the first time, they place their arm in a calibration tool that determines where the muscles are.” LaChappelle said. “The first few moments are similar to riding a bicycle — you’re getting used .”
He sat back and watched Momo use her new limb. Everything “clicked” suddenly. “
“She emphasized her hand movement and not her muscles,” he said. Momo was able shake hands and open doors with her new limb.
LaChappelle’s company also provided a prosthetic limb to 14-year-old Aashna Patel, who is missing the lower part of her left arm. Her story is featured in the documentary short The Inventor, which is part of the Generation Impact series available on YouTube and The Garage.
Putting the User First
TrueLimb sold hundreds of prosthetic legs in its seven-year history. The company sells directly to patients, hospitals, clinics, as well as to foundations that pay for the cost of these prosthetic limbs for those who cannot afford them.
“Each TrueLimb can be customized to fit the needs of each individual. LaChappelle explains that it is made in your image down to the finger length and width. It’s also matched to each person’s skin tone.
Children typically outgrow their prosthetics within 12 to 14 months. They can send their TrueLimb prosthetic back to the company when they outgrow it. The company will upcycle the parts and make a new limb.
“Incredible” to be able give prosthetic limbs to children like Momo and Aashna is LaChappelle’s statement. It’s both exciting and humble to see the device being used and extended by them. “
He says he hopes to make TrueLimb even more affordable, giving access to more of the approximately 40 million amputees worldwide. The technology may also have a use for people who’ve lost hand or arm movement from a stroke.
” I want to keep challenging myself, the company and the industry to see things differently and place the user first,” LaChappelle states.
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