Inventor creates 3D-printed robotic arms for children’s missing limbs

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Inventor creates 3D-printed robotic arms for children’s missing limbs

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. A little girl came to him, curious about his invention. She wore a prosthesis on her right arm that was no more than a claw. He watched her move and opened it.

β€œIt was a huge eye-opener for me,” says LaChappelle.

He learned from the girl’s parents that the prosthetic arm cost $80,000. Despite the high price tag, the limb was bulky, uncomfortable and not very useful. In addition, the girl would quickly outgrow the limb and need a new one.

“I couldn’t accept that,” he says, adding that he knew he could build a cheaper and easier-to-use arm.

“That was when I devoted my life to making better prosthetic technology,” he says.

In 2014, at the age of 18, LaChappelle started his own company called Unlimited Tomorrow, with financial backing from life coach Tony Robbins.

Life-changing technology

In the early years of the company’s existence, LaChappelle had to work out the technology needed to create custom limbs at a fraction of the price of existing ones.

The model he eventually developed allows users to scan their limbs with a 3D scanner in their home, rather than having to have themselves fitted in person. Then the company prints, assembles and tests the limb. Finally, it is sent to the user. By streamlining the manufacturing process, LaChappelle reduced the cost of his prosthetic limb, called TrueLimb, to $8,000.

His first client was a little girl named Momo, who was missing part of her right arm and hand. In 2017, they met in Seattle, where the inventor helped fit Momo with her new prosthetic arm.

TrueLimb looks and feels like a human arm, right down to the fingernails (which can be polished). It is controlled by the user’s muscles, just like a real limb.

When someone is fitted for a TrueLimb, they undergo a process of muscle training, in which sensors in the socket of the prosthesis learn to detect their muscles.

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