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Microsoft Documentary Series Chronicles Young Engineer’s Work Toward Affordable 3D Printed Robotic Prosthetics

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LaChappelle and President Obama

3D printing technology can do many things, but one of the best, in my opinion, is inspiring people to make the world a better place. We first heard about young self-taught engineer Easton LaChappelle back in 2014, a year after he had the chance to demonstrate his 3D printed robotic prosthetic to then-President Barack Obama at the White House Science Fair. LaChappelle was working with robotics experts at NASA’s Johnson Space Center to refine his prosthetics, in hopes that they could eventually help amputees who couldn’t afford high-cost standard prostheses.

Now 21 years old, LaChappelle, who lives in Colorado, has come a long way since the first robotic hand he made out of LEGOs, electrical tubing, and fishing wire when he was 14. He’s made a young girl he met at another science fair a prosthetic arm for just $400, founded his own company, Unlimited Tomorrow, Inc., at age 18, and in 2015 launched a GoFundMe campaign to further develop his open-source, advanced robotic arms.

At least 30 million people around the world need a prosthetic device, and costs are typically in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. LaChappelle isn’t the only young person to develop 3D printed robotic prosthetics, and he has been working to leverage advanced technology, including 3D printing and robotics, to make fully-functioning prosthetics at a more affordable cost. 3D printing can help to significantly cut down on the costs of functional prosthetics, and initiatives focusing on bringing lower-cost options to those who need them are an important use for the technology.

He was put in touch with 9-year-old Momo thanks to a Florida nonprofit organization that had heard of his work with prosthetics. Momo is missing her right arm from the elbow down, and it became his personal, heartwarming mission to make her a prosthetic arm that would become a model for the one he hopes to provide to many other children.

LaChappelle was almost out of money and resources when Microsoft learned about the arm he was making for Momo, and the fact that he was using Microsoft products, like an Xbox Kinect to take 3D scans of residual limbs and a Surface to run AutoCAD, to develop the arm. After visiting his studio, Microsoft offered to help him complete the project.

Microsoft filmed the process, and together with Seattle-based Belief Agency, has launched a three-part documentary series about LaChappelle and Momo. Each of the three episodes details a different part of the unique story, and runs between five and seven minutes. The first episode details his origin story, as it were (I’m not crying, you’re crying…).

LaChappelle had the opportunity to go to Seattle and work in B87, Microsoft’s ‘black ops’ prototyping lab. Microsoft, seeing his work advance and inspired by his project, invited him to spend over two months there, rather than the originally-planned one week. To make the project deadline and give the 3D printed robotic prosthetic arm to Momo on time, some of the company’s top industrial designers got involved, and helped LaChappelle finish it just hours before Momo got to Seattle.

LaChappelle and Momo had spent years communicating virtually, and finally met in person this summer when he gave her his first successful, 3D printed device, which cost less than $4,000.

The arm looks and feels just like the real thing, down to the fingernails. Each of the five fingers is fully articulated and able to move, and LaChappelle designed it so that it will even break the way a real human arm would in a fall.

While LaChappelle was very glad to deliver the arm to Momo, the 3D printed, low-cost prosthetic was just the start, and he has since published open source prosthetic designs, in order to allow for and encourage ongoing innovation.

His goal is to make advanced, 3D printed prosthetics available to people all around the world who need them but can’t afford traditional, expensive devices. Because he insists on keeping his designs open source, people with financial barriers and limited resources can complete 3D scans and prints on their own. Someday, LaChappelle also hopes to develop modular, plug and play prosthetic kits in varying sizes.

Below are the second and third parts of this documentary:

Discuss in the Microsoft forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source/Images: Upbeat]

 

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