Easton LaChappelle is a bit of a prodigy. At 19 years old, he’s already landed a job at NASA, and he’s part of a seismic shift in how technology is being used to change the world, but that’s hardly the entire story.

Easton LaChappelle

Easton LaChappelle

The project that’s brought LaChappelle into prominence involves a chance meeting he had with a little girl using a prosthetic limb that cost upwards of $80,000, and that got the young engineer and designer thinking. So he built her a prosthetic arm. For a fraction of that sum. For just $400, in fact.

While projects like RoboHand are driving down the cost of needed prosthetic devices, LaChappelle’s arm is an extremely sophisticated take on solving the problem. Over the course of three years and working with online resources and collaborators alongside 3D designer Chris Chappelle, the project ultimately took 2nd place at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. He and Chappelle launched a successful Kickstarter project for what they called the “Anthromod” robotic arm.

LaChappelle and President Obama

LaChappelle and President Obama

The first version was a wireless hand controlled by a glove which included “flex sensors” sewn into the glove. Custom PCB boards and a custom servo shield, along with a set of XBee modules for wireless communication, completed the device. The system uses a wireless, EEG-capable headset which senses 10 different channels of brainwaves to control the arm.

It’s considerably more functional than a traditional prosthesis – and stronger than a human hand. LaChappelle says the next generation of the arm was capable of sustaining 50 pounds of pressure on each individual finger.

“The strength of the hand is so great that it’s almost dangerous,” LaChappelle says of the device.

LaChappelle made his first robotic hand out of LEGOs, fishing wire, and electrical tubing when he was all of 14 years old, and it’s now, after considerable effort on his part, a 3D printed marvel capable of operating in conjunction with the user’s mind.

The prototype, a practical — and affordable — device, once shook hands with President Obama and led to the young man’s work at NASA as a team member on the Robonaut project.

He’s also founded his own company, Unlimited Tomorrow, Inc., and it’s dedicated to developing an exoskeleton to help paraplegics walk again. That device is now undergoing the patent process and seeking FDA approval.

But it’s the advanced, open-source robotic arms that are truly a marvel. They can be used as prosthesis or as a STEM learning tool, and the device is as disruptive as it gets. Now LaChappelle is seeking funds to expand the program and develop the product through a GoFundMe campaign.

“I am raising money to expand our resources which includes more 3D printers, material development, manpower, and testing equipment,” LaChappelle says. “This will all help contribute to getting this technology to the people who really need it.”

And it’s no small task.

As LaChappelle refines the designs, he’s also using bleeding edge tools like HP Sprout to help share his designs online. It’s an effort to introduce a wide range of people to engineering, and socially-conscious makers and business people like LaChappelle are on the forefront of that movement.

The wide adoption of 3D printing and 3D design technology has spurred innovation and interest in STEM education around the globe. Do you know of any other projects which have caused disruption to the way education and business are conducted? Let us know in the Teen 3D Prints a Prosthetic Arm forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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