Changing Lives, One Limb at a Time
A chance meeting at the 2013 Colorado State Science Fair would change the path of LaChappelle’s career. A little girl came up to him, curious about his invention. She was wearing a prosthetic on her right arm that was little more than a claw. He watched how she moved and opened it.
“It was extremely eye-opening for me,” LaChappelle says.
He learned from the girl’s parents that the prosthetic arm cost $80,000. Despite the steep price tag, the limb was bulky, uncomfortable, and not very useful. What’s more, the girl would soon outgrow the limb and need a new one.
“I couldn’t accept that,” he says, adding that he knew he could build a cheaper and more user-friendly arm.
“That was the moment I dedicated my life to making better prosthetic technology,” he says.
In 2014, at age 18, LaChappelle started his own company called Unlimited Tomorrow, with financial backing from life coach Tony Robbins.
In the first few years of the company’s existence, LaChappelle had to work out the technology needed to create custom limbs for a fraction of the price of existing ones.
The model he eventually developed lets users scan their limbs using a 3D scanner in their home, rather than having to get fitted in person. Then the company prints, assembles, and tests the limb. Finally, it’s shipped to the user. By streamlining the production process, LaChappelle brought the cost of his prosthetic limb, called TrueLimb, down to $8,000.
His first customer was a little girl named Momo, who was missing part of her right arm and hand. In 2017, met in Seattle, where the inventor helped to fit Momo with her new prosthetic arm.
TrueLimb looks and feels like a human arm, right down to the fingernails (which can be polished). It’s controlled by the user’s muscles, just like a real limb.
Whenever someone is fitted for a TrueLimb, they go through a process of muscle training, where sensors in the prosthetic’s socket learn to detect their muscles.