Easton LaChappelle has had a longstanding fascination with robotic hands.
The budding entrepreneur and inventor designed his first robotic hand at age 14, and now at 22, has catapulted his passion into a commercial venture, leveraging partnerships and state-of-the-art 3D technology to try to change the way prosthetic hands are designed and manufactured.
LaChappelle’s newly unveiled initiative, Unlimited Tomorrow, is collaborating with 3D printing giant Stratasys and 3D software provider Dassault Systemes to realize his vision of low-cost, highly functional arms for those who need them most. Evolving from his early robotic hand designs, LaChappelle and partners are aiming to rethink the way artificial limbs are made by targeting common pain points related to customization, weight, and cost. The partnership with Stratasys and Dassault Systemes will help the startup accelerate its go-to-market strategy and continue its push to change the paradigm for personalized, 3D printed prosthetics, LaChappelle says.
LaChappelle says he knew he was onto something back in 2013 when he was explaining his robotic hand inventions at a science fair and happened upon a young girl who seemed fascinated by his presentation. Upon exploration, he realized his science project featuring moveable fingers was far more advanced than the prosthetic the girl happened to be wearing. Even more than that, her prosthetic, like most traditional devices, cost anywhere from $20,000 to $100,000, which put them out of reach for many people in potential need. For children, in particular, the high cost of prosthetic limbs is often problematic, given that they quickly outgrow models and require a steady stream of new devices.
The Unlimited Tomorrow/Dassault Systemes/Stratasys partnership seeks to change that dynamic. The trio is working on a scalable model for designing and manufacturing custom prosthetic devices. The 3D design and scanning software, coupled with 3D printing, will help streamline the design process and reduce the need for multiple fittings, which will minimize the impact on each patient, LaChappelle says.
As the dedicated 3D printing company on the initiative, Stratasys will assist Unlimited Tomorrow by providing access to 3D printing expertise, materials, and its PolyJet technology to engineer and produce in volume the prosthetics. The company has promised to mass produce 100 arms at no cost over the next year and half to two years. “We view 3D printing as a catalyst for healthcare innovation to enable better patient care, streamline procedures, and improve learning,” says Arita Mattsoff, vice president, corporate social responsibility at Stratasys.
Dassault’s SOLIDWORKS 3D CAD package, part of its 3DEXPERIENCE platform, will be used to design the prosthetic arms. The company provided free licenses of SOLIDWORKS to Unlimited Tomorrow along with printed circuit board design capabilities and a contribution to the company’s Indiegogo funding platform. “It seemed like the right thing to do,” says Mark Rushton, product portfolio manager for SOLIDWORKS. “We have lots of contacts and partnerships where we can help them out.”
Watch this video to hear Easton LaChappelle’s inspiring story and why he embarked on mission to reinvent the prosthetic hand.