It seems that a new technology comes out every day with a promise to change the world, but one particular engineer is doing so with his own hands, starting with a young girl named Momo.
Prosthetic limbs have come a long way, but with new engineering tools, more data available, and an inspiring work ethic, 21-year-old Microsoft robotics engineer Easton LaChappelle is changing the prosthetics industry with his new model.
Using low-cost 3D scanners and computers to digitally map an amputee’s residual limb and full arm, Easton has spent the past six years developing the technology to change the life of a nine-year-old girl who was born without a right forearm and hand.
Momo has excelled in school and athletics with the help of a basic prosthetic arm that she has been wearing since she was four, but she has always dreamed of having a lifelike arm and moving fingers.
Easton, with the help of his team at Microsoft, has been working tirelessly to make her dream come true. Founder of his own company, Unlimited Tomorrow, Easton has dedicated himself to making life-changing robotic limbs that use next-gen technologies to feel lifelike for those wearing it. Easton made his first robotic hand out of LEGOs and electrical tubing when he was 14, and founded Unlimited Tomorrow only three years later. The company’s mission statement, “enabling humans to perform the impossible,” is exactly what he’s doing.
“This could be the next big jump in technology and prosthetics,” Easton explains in a recently-released Microsoft video. “This is giving us the ability to make something that looks exactly like a human hand down to the feeling of skin and the fingers folding exactly like the human hand does.”
The robotic arm technology, equipped with human finger strength and muscle control, has the potential to change millions of lives.
“Giving somebody an arm that they didn’t have before- it opens all kinds of new possibilities,” noted Jeremy Sampson, a mechanical design engineer at Microsoft. “I’m excited to see what [Momo] does with it.”
After years of developing the technology and working through prototypes, Easton and Momo recently met in person, where they exchanged tight hugs, a few tears and finally—the arm Momo has always dreamed of.
“It’s always been really building up to this moment of how this will affect this little girl,” Easton said before meeting Momo for the first time. “It’s not just a generic arm or hand; it’s her hand.”
Momo’s new robotic arm weighs one pound, and includes individual finger movement, muscle control, and a battery life of 3-4 days. Easton even built the arm with magnetic paintable fingernails for Momo. After all, she’ll need some nail polish to match her fuchsia-colored bicycle and her bright pink goggles she wears in the pool.
Momo is the first recipient of Easton’s technology, but when it comes to his future innovations, he’s not finished yet. Easton plans to continue working with Microsoft to develop his prosthetics, and Unlimited Tomorrow relies on donations to fund the technology needed to build the robotic limbs. In fact, there is a donation portal on the company’s website, where all donations go directly to the production of a device that an amputee will receive.
In terms of his team at Microsoft, Easton’s fellow engineers and managers are happy to help. “It’s different than what we normally do. We don’t usually build prosthetic limbs here,” said Microsoft’s Advanced Prototyping Center Manager, John Haley, “but every person wanted to have a part of it.”