Series | Challengers

26-year-old builds $8,000 mind-controlled bionic arms

Bionic arms used to cost $80,000. Now, a young engineer has lowered the cost by over 90%.
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For the two-million Americans living as amputees, the need for a high-functioning prosthetic limb is very real. 185,000 amputations occur each year in the United States alone, and that number is only expected to grow. 

Research shows that the number of people with limb loss in the U.S. could nearly double by 2050, primarily due to vascular disease which is often caused by diabetes. To meet this demand, one promising prosthetic arm company is shaking up the industry. 

The future of prosthetic limb production

A robotic prosthetic arm can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $100,000. These expenses become particularly difficult for the parents of young children who outgrow their prosthetic limbs in just 12-14 months. 

In the U.S., prosthetics account for more than $6 billion in spending each year.

But cost isn’t the only problem. There’s a host of other complications with traditional prosthetics, including a one-size-fits-all fitting approach that leads to skin irritation, chronic pain, and excessive sweating, a lack of training that can render the prosthetic unusable, and limited access to specialists. 

Because of their price point, though, amputees often settle for traditional prosthetics — sacrificing greater range of motion for a passive device that looks human-like, but doesn’t move. Unlimited Tomorrow has set out to fix these fundamental issues within the industry, so that amputees no longer have to choose between functionality and appearance. 

Finally, an affordable mind-controlled prosthetic arm 

Founded in 2014 by Easton LaChapelle when he was just 18 years old, the company is poised to become a leader in the prosthetic arm industry. Their True Limb device costs less than $8,000 and it’s even cheaper for children, priced at about $4,000. 

True Limb is both functional and realistic-looking, serving as a mirror image of the amputee’s opposing limb, even down to the fingertips. And while the prosthetic arm is 60-90% cheaper than traditional prosthetics, many users say it’s far superior to market alternatives. 

Unlimited Tomorrow is pioneering a new age in prosthetics with its 3D-printed robotic arms.

What’s the secret? Unlimited Tomorrow uses a totally remote, custom process that cuts out middlemen to produce prosthetics completely in-house. Here’s how it works: first, patients schedule a one-on-one consultation with a member of Unlimited Tomorrow’s clinical team. The company then sends the amputee a 3D scanner that’s capable of creating a comprehensive scan of the residual limb. 

From there, customers are sent a set of “check sockets,” and engage in video evaluations with the clinical team to assess comfort and fit. If something feels uncomfortable, the clinicians can make adjustments and repeat the process until the optimal fit is achieved. Once the fit is perfected, the team 3D-prints the bionic arm, assembles the necessary components, and tests it out before sending it to the amputee for training. 

“It unlocks a new level of personalization never thought of before,” says LaChapelle. “Each device is made unique to each person, down to the size, shape, and feel. We pack so many incredible features such as sense of touch, easy-to-use movement, and it’s also extremely lightweight and durable.”

For the 40-million worldwide amputees in need of prosthetic limbs, this remote, personalized, and affordable process for fitting prosthetics means hope for a better future. 

Making bionic limbs accessible to all

LaChapelle’s journey to creating the most advanced prosthetic arm is an inspiring one. It began when he was just 14, after he met a young girl with an $80,000 traditional prosthetic limb. The scene didn’t sit right with LaChapelle, who had already created a robotic arm in his bedroom that he believed was more functional. Thus, the idea for Unlimited Tomorrow was born. 

A few years later when LaChapelle was about to graduate highschool, philanthropist Tony Robbins met LaChapelle and decided to provide seed funding for Unlimited Tomorrow. They had to wait to bring the vision to life though, because at 17, LaChapelle wasn’t old enough to legally own a company. 

“Starting a business at 18 was a huge challenge,” he says. “It wasn’t easy to jump straight into the startup environment and run a business. It took so much trial and error, learning through lots of different mediums — books, presentations, videos, courses… It’s extremely motivating, but it is hard.” 

Today, True Limb’s prosthetic arms are in use across America, vastly improving the lives of amputees.

“Every time a True Limb leaves our door, I feel incredibly humbled and proud of our product and what we’ve created,” he says. “We see these videos and pictures and these incredible emails that we get from people using these devices… Little moments like that always stand out to me.”

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