Unlimited Tomorrow, a medical device startup based in Rhinebeck, NY, is developing inexpensive custom prostheses for upper limb amputees. Their approach involves 3D-printing inexpensive custom robotic devices that allow users to experience a sensation of touch, by providing live feedback on the forces that act on the prosthetics.
While there are 30 million amputees globally, unfortunately only 5% have access to prostheses. A large part of this is the prohibitive cost of these devices. For example, a prosthetic arm can cost as much as $80,000. Unlimited Tomorrow aims to increase the number of people who have access to prostheses, by using 3D printing to rapidly create inexpensive devices.
Users first undergo a 3D scan, which the company then uses to design an anatomically accurate custom limb. The prostheses can be fabricated in just two weeks, and cost approximately $5,000, which is a fraction of the cost of traditional prostheses.
The company has aimed to make the prostheses as life-like as possible, with a custom skin-like covering and texture, realistic fingernails and individual finger movements. To date, Unlimited Tomorrow has collaborated with organizations such as NASA and Microsoft and has already raised over $1M through crowdfunding.
Medgadget had the opportunity to ask Easton LaChappelle, CEO and Co-Founder of Unlimited Tomorrow some questions about the concept. LaChappelle began experimenting with robotics at a young age (he is currently aged 22).
See Easton’s pitch for investors below:
Conn Hastings, Medgadget: How did you get interested in this area? Did you always want to be an inventor and entrepreneur?
Easton LaChappelle, Unlimited Tomorrow: I’ve always loved creating and exploring ideas. When I was growing up I would take apart everything I could get my hands on to understand how it works. When I was 14, I came up with a project to create a robotic hand. This was a project that involved many areas of engineering and it’s what allowed me to find and explore my passion.
Medgadget: What inspired you to develop your first prototype for an upper limb prosthetic?
LaChappelle: I entered a full robotic arm I made into the science fair and I met a 7-year-old girl that had an $80,000 prosthetic limb that was simpler than what I created. I realized that she would need a new device almost every year and to me, this was not acceptable. I was inspired to create a device that was not only better but accessible to everyone who needs one.
Medgadget: What are the limitations of currently available prostheses?
LaChappelle: As an amputee, your choice of a prosthetic device depends on your insurance. The problem is that insurance usually doesn’t cover much of device and requires an amputee to have a prescription and be seeing an occupational therapist to even qualify for a basic device. If you can get past this hurdle you are faced with a decision of functional or appearance. Your option is a passive device that looks human-like, a metal claw or hook or an expensive myoelectric device that can range from $30,000–$100,000.
Medgadget: How does your design overcome these? Why has no-one made the leap to create these types of advanced, inexpensive prostheses previously?
LaChappelle: Unlimited Tomorrow has designed the full product and business model from the ground up. Instead of an amputee traveling to a specialist to take molds which can take months, we send them a 3d scanner and can generate a custom device for them within days. Up until now, it’s been almost impossible to create technology like this as a startup without the aid of 3d printing, 3d scanning, and intelligent software. We have pioneered a new biometric sensor, integrated machine learning to decode brain signals, integrated a sense of touch, paintable fingernails, wireless charging, and the list keeps going on. We have put the user first and created a scalable product that caters to everyone.
Medgadget: Please tell us about some of the partnerships you have made to bring this product to fruition. How have the prostheses been received by users so far?
LaChappelle: Unlimited Tomorrow is a people business powered by people. Conventionally it can take tens of millions of dollars to launch a medical device company. We gain that value by turning to crowdfunding and by creating meaningful relationship and partnerships. We have amazing partnerships with Microsoft, Dassault Systems, Arrow Electronics and others that help us create a better product faster.
Medgadget: Do you have any plans to develop other prostheses, such as lower limb prostheses?
LaChappelle: Absolutely! This is just the start of Unlimited Tomorrow. We see technology as a way to augment the human body and unlock someone’s full potential. We have plans to create lower extremity prosthetic devices as well as exoskeletons to assist and aid in mobility.