Young woman with prosthetic arm

Small arms designer

Image credit: Natasha Castrejon

Unlimited Tomorrow aims to bring more capable prosthetic arms to a wider population.

Easton LaChappelle started his inventor career as a tinkering teenager, who eventually made a robotic arm from items lying around the house. Direction for his work came when he met a girl at a science fair who had a conventional prosthetic arm – typically costing £50,000, it weighed a couple of kilos and took up to a year to fabricate. Now 26 years old, LaChappelle is the CEO and founder of Unlimited Tomorrow, a company with a mission to make affordable, lightweight, high-quality prostheses for, initially, children, but increasingly for adults as well.

Unlimited Tomorrow’s business model focuses on remote care, which means a prosthesis – TrueLimb – can be ordered from the comfort of one’s own home. The process starts with a 3D scan: Unlimited Tomorrow sends its customers a scan app that can be installed on a mobile device. A family member or friend then scans the person’s residual limb. During the ordering process the person also selects the colour for the prosthesis so that it blends in well – 450 skin tones are available. The images from the scan are then sent to the company, so the engineers can get on with the most difficult part of the prosthetic creation process: designing and manufacturing a customised socket. Although of course the company is not just an engineering organisation – it has clinicians on staff for patient consultation who have deep knowledge of prosthetics.

The prosthesis are actually made on an HP 380 3D printer because it was the only one that could print the PA-12 polymer they needed, and do so in over 450 colours needed for skin-colour matching.

The finger movements and standard grasps initiated by sensors in the TrueLimb prosthetic allow patients to essentially ‘train’ their TrueLimb to react to small muscle movements in their partial limbs, so that certain movements will initiate certain hand grasps. After a while, they don’t even have to think about it.

LaChappelle and his team are understandably proud of the prostheses they manufacture. Until now, the focus has been on upper extremities, and their innovations have disrupted the prosthetic arm market – cost is typically a tenth, weight is halved and delivery can be in just weeks.

To date, over 500 children and adults have been supplied with prosthetic arms by the company. But the people at Unlimited Tomorrow are not resting on their laurels. They have plans to scale up dramatically and extend their offering to include prostheses for lower extremities. By doing so they will be able to reach even more of the estimated 40 million amputees worldwide, of which only 5 per cent have access to devices. A further aim is to offer exoskeletal systems.

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