Exceptional. Awe-inspiring. These are just some of the adjectives that have been used to describe Easton LaChappelle, a 19-year-old Colorado teenager whose determination and drive may change the world of robotics and prosthetics for the better.
When LaChappelle was just 14, he made his first robotic hand. He didn’t have proper equipment, so he used LEGOs and fishing wire. He didn’t have a lab, so he built his creation in his bedroom.
Later, at the 2011 Colorado state science fair, LaChappelle’s robotic hand clinched third place. But something perhaps even more significant happened at that event, forever changing the teen’s life.
In this first episode of Uproxx’s “Luminaries,” a documentary series about extraordinary people in the fields of science and technology, LaChappelle describes an unforgettable encounter with a 7-year-old girl at the fair.
“She had a prosthetic limb,” he said. “[It had] one motion -- open, close -- and one sensor, and just this alone was $80,000.”
Stunned by the staggering cost, LaChappelle says that he saw in this an opportunity for real change. He was determined to invent a prosthetic that was under $1,000.
He promptly got to work.
Today, LaChappelle runs his own robotics start-up. Using 3D printing technology, he’s developed an affordable and functional prosthetic arm and hand.
According to Uproxx, the average prosthetic limb on the market costs about $60,000. That price-tag “would require a prosthetic system with a very nuanced prosthetic hand with internal battery systems, multiple microprocessors and multiple individual drive motors,” Phillip M. Stevens, president of the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists, told The Huffington Post, adding that it’s difficult to pinpoint the average cost of a prosthesis as the price range can vary tremendously from person to person. The Department of Veterans Affairs lists the projected cost of an elbow-down myoelectric prosthesis -- one controlled by impulses from muscles in the remainder of a limb -- as $20,329.
LaChappelle's prototype costs just $350 to produce, and he announced last month it will be made open source -- which means that the design can be downloaded by anyone online, totally free of charge.
"No one person can change the world," LaChappelle says in the video. "It takes multiple people, so if I can develop technology in a way so other people can take what I've done and grow from it and do something more with it, someone could take that and keep impacting someone else's life and eventually try and rule out a lot of the bad in the world by giving back to our own kind."
What an inspiration.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated the VA's listed cost for an elbow-down myoelectric prosthesis. This article has been updated with additional information about the average cost of prosthetics.