One of the highlights of SOLIDWORKS World (SWW) is the chance it provides for engineers from all across the globe to showcase and learn about the most interesting and innovate technologies being developed. This year was no exception. In fact, one of this year’s showcase technologies was also the most inspirational—a breakthrough prosthetic from Unlimited Tomorrow.
Who Is Unlimited Tomorrow?
Unlimited Tomorrow was founded by Easton LaChappelle, who started the company with one idea in mind—change the prosthetics industry by building inexpensive and technologically advanced devices that put users first. To achieve this, Unlimited Tomorrow has focused on four key design strategies to meet its innovative goals:
- User First: Cater products to a user’s needs, not those of the designer.
- Enable the Impossible: Conceptualize new ideas and listen to unique thinking.
- Innovation: If a technology isn’t available to match your ambitions, then invent it.
- Accessible Technology: Leverage cutting-edge manufacturing techniques at every design stage so that a greater number of users have access to affordable, advanced technologies.
That sounds like a strong, albeit ambitious platform on which to begin a company. But ambition is just what is required to change a market that’s been a bit stagnant and certainly in need of some innovation.
What many people don’t realize is that prosthetics can be outrageously expensive, ranging anywhere from $20,000 to $100,000 per device. For most people, that can put full mobility in jeopardy. But LaChappelle believed he could make a difference.
Starting when he was just 14 years old, LaChappelle began developing robotic prosthetics. Initially, his designs were built to satisfy his own curiosity and the requirements of a science fair, but now, seven years after he made his first prosthetics design, LaChappelle’s project has blossomed into a startup that might just change the entire prosthetics market.
Harnessing advanced technologies like CAD, laser scanning and 3D printing, Unlimited Tomorrow is in the process of building a prosthetic that is strong and lightweight, and has individual digit control, muscle sensors, AI capacity, haptic feedback and days-long battery life. In fact, back in 2013 during a TEDx talk, LaChappelle showed off a prototype of the device that his company is now set to launch. Since that time, LaChappelle has been collecting support from a number of key industry players, including CAD company Dassault Systèmes, 3D printer maker Stratasys and tech giant Microsoft.
“Unlimited Tomorrow is driven by enabling the possible, with unique thinking that results in absolutely incredible ideas. Our intent is always ‘user-first,’ meaning the technology serves the needs of patients from the outset—and it’s all driven by the most advanced technology,” said LaChappelle in an interview with Business Wire “We are honored to have Stratasys and Dassault Systèmes join our growing enterprise coalition, further empowering us to change the paradigm for personalized, 3D-printed prosthetics and accelerate ourgo-to-market.
And while it’s true that Unlimited Tomorrow’s prosthetics are still being perfected, LaChappellehas delivered at least one device to a user.
Not long ago, LaChappelle met Momo, a young girl from Florida who is missing her right arm. Until she met LaChappelle, Momo was using an $80,000prosthetic that didn’t have moving fingers and provided only some mobility. But that was all about to change.
A month earlier, LaChappelle was on a flight from his home in Durango, Colo., to Microsoft’s Advanced Prototyping Center in Redmond, Wash.
“It’s always been… how this [prosthetic] will affect this little girl, Momo, and how will that make her feel—and just the expression that she’ll have when she sees something that is truly hers.It’s not just a generic arm or hand—it’s her hand,” explained LaChappelle.
Within days of landing from that flight, LaChappelle was hard at work with the Microsoft engineers and manufacturing leads that develop some of the world’s most innovative computing devices. Through an arduous month of research and development, LaChappelle and the Microsoft team began using technologies like laser scanners, PolyJet 3D printers and CAD software to iterate through design options and solve very difficult design problems.
“What I was I impressed with Easton is that he’s looking at different technology, new technology that maybe aren’t being used together right now, and how can he combine those in a way to do something new,“ explained Jeremy Sampson, Microsoft mechanical design engineer.
At the end of his month with Microsoft, LaChappelle met with Momo and her parents in what can only be described as an emotional and cathartic moment for everyone involved in developing the most advanced Unlimited Tomorrow prototype. After introductions, LaChappelle handed Momo her new prosthetic. Within a moment of putting it on, the young girl was already showing off her new abilities to her parents, LaChappelle and anyone who wanted to watch.
“Today has changed my life—not just for me, but for everyone missing a limb,” said Momo.“When one gets it, then a couple others, then maybe hundred and thousands, so no one feels left out.”
Oh, and did we mention, Momo’s device cost $5,000to make. Talk about reaching out and seizing the initiative in an industry. And beyond the technology or price break under pinning the Unlimited Tomorrow project, Momo’s understanding of what this new device means might be the real revolution here. Engineers who start off with a big dream have the opportunity to inspire greater action in the people who their products reach.
What’s Next for Unlimited Tomorrow?
With the backing of Dassault Systèmes, Stratasys and Microsoft, the potential for Unlimited Tomorrow is as wide open and grand as its name. In fact, the company has announced via Facebook that it has raised its $1.35million funding goal in short order, and is now looking to expand its investment base to $1.6 million. With undaunted courage and ambition, Unlimited Tomorrow may just be the company that changes how people who are missing limbs interact with the world. No doubt, the happiness and dreams that the company has already provided to Momo will buoy it through any difficult design challenges that await.