A 21-year-old developer’s robotic arm could be the future of prosthetics

Twenty-one-year-old Easton LaChappelle may end up changing the lives of thousands of amputees around the world with a new robotic arm prosthetic that costs around $4,000. Following in his footsteps as he develops the next-generation of affordable prosthetics, Microsoft and Belief Agency have produced a three-part documentary series, showing everything from the arm’s production process to the little girl who is destined to wear it.

Prosthetic limbs have improved by leaps and bounds in the past few years. Thanks to developments in battery technology, robotics miniaturization, and improved wireless connectivity, they can do more than ever before, but they are rarely affordable. What LaChapelle has done and continues to improve upon, is change that economic dynamic so that prosthetics do not need to bankrupt its buyers.

LaChapelle first came to the attention of experts in his mid-teens following the creation of several impressive robotic prototypes. He later worked with NASA and even shook then-President Barack Obama’s hand with one of his robotic arms in 2013, Upbeat reports.

The Belief Agency-backed documentary trilogy picks up the story years later, now at age 21, LaChapelle is looking to change the prosthetic market once again.

He is now leveraging 3D-printing technology and making many of the designs freely available online, further helping to bring the cost down for the major components of prosthetic arms. He envisions a future where such hardware is much more easily available. To prove that this is possible, LaChapelle produced a 3D-printed prosthetic for a nine-year-old-girl named Momo, who is as much a star in the videos as he is.

Microsoft later learned of the project and offered funding and access to its B87 prototyping laboratory. He ended up staying there for a couple of months working on the design and worked with some of Microsoft’s own industrial engineers to bring the project to fruition.

In true movie fashion, we are told that LaChapelle finished the final prosthetic mere hours before Momo’s arrival to try it out. The result is an arm that is articulate, with functional fingers and thumbs, aesthetic finger nails, and a skin-like texture.

The response from Momo was infectiously happy. There is hope that with future developments, a combination of 3D scanning and 3D printing, that robotic prosthetics like her’s can be made affordable and available to everyone and anyone who needs them.