Jan 20, 2015 | By Simon

Although we’ve been seeing a lot of 3D printed prosthetics in recent memory ranging from E-Nable’s crowdsourced prosthetic arm and hand designs to UNYQ’s custom 3D printed prosthetic covers, few of these concepts were started by a teenager who wasn’t even in high school yet.  Then again, Easton LaChappelle isn’t your ordinary maker-kid, either.

When he was 14 years old, the Colorado, USA-based LaChappelle made his first robotic hand out of LEGO toys, fishing wire and electrical tubing.  Like other young engineers-in-training, he had a knack for taking things apart and figuring out how they work.  With this iterative-design mindframe, LaChappelle continued to work on the robotic hand until gradually it became a full prosthetic arm design, and then finally, a full mind-controlled and 3D printed prosthetic that a user could control with their brain.

Although LaChappelle had found success with using his MakerBot 3D printer to further develop the arm over the next couple of years, it wasn’t until he had an encounter with a 7-year old girl at a Colorado science fair who told him that her existing $80,000 prosthetic arm needed to be replaced as she grew that he decided that he needed to buckle down and really focus on designing an affordable robotic arm.

Inspired by his interaction with the young girl, LaChappelle set out to design a practical device that would be able to be manufactured cheaply and was also replaceable for younger prosthetic wearers who would outgrow their arms as they aged.

At the age of 18, just four years after developing his first robotic hand out of LEGO toys, LaChappelle founded his own company, Unlimited Tomorrow, Inc with the goal of developing an exoskeleton to help advance the design of prosthetics and help paraplegics walk again.  The company has already filed patents and is currently pursuing FDA approval for their designs.  Already, LaChappelle has presented his robotic arm concept to President Obama (who shook the robot’s hand) and has travelled the world to let others know what he is doing.  

Perhaps one of the better products to come out of Unlimited Tomorrow however, is their advanced open source robotic arms that are designed to be used for prosthetics with a STEM integrated learning platform.  Ultimately, the arms would be able to be used in a classroom environment to help teach students how to work with 3D printers as well as robotics while also helping to advance the future of prosthetics design.  

According to the Mission Statement on Unlimited Tomorrow’s webpage, “Unlimited Tomorrow's philosophy is to keep the user first and to give extreme technology at an affordable price. With the robotic arm and hand being open source it gives it a platform to naturally fall in the hands of people who need it.”

More recently however, LaChappelle is trying to raise money so that he can expand his resources to include more 3D printers, material development, manpower and testing equipment.  

He has setup a page on GoFundMe where he is kindly asking for donations to help further develop what he envisions is the future of 3D printed prosthetic arms.  

“This will all help contribute to getting this technology to the people who really need it,” he adds.  “We will be keep this process personal and highlight individuals along the way. “

Among others who have donated to the campaign thus far are Maria Heng, who along with her donation added:

“Easton, your brilliance of mind matched by your brilliance of heart creates hope in a world weighed heavy with despair. You inspire a hope for all by your goodness, and you inspire hope for people like me whose lives will be personally changed by the technology you so generously share. Thank you, Easton and your team. Keep on!”

Others are in full-support of LaChappelles decision to keep the platform open source, which could do wonders to not just those in need of prosthetics, but the future of exoskeletons for other purposes such as manual labor support.

Currently, LaChappelle has raised nearly 20% of his $10,000 goal in just three days.  You can make a donation yourself by heading over to his GoFundMe page.  He also has a Shapeways page where users can have a prosthetic hand 3D printed and shipped to them from Shapeways starting at $247.97.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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