Easton LaChappelle, a 19-year-old from Colorado, was only 14 when he first started taking apart toasters. In the last five years, he has managed to develop in his bedroom a series of low-cost, 3D-printed robotic hands, that -similarly to young engineer Anand Srinivasan’s (15) story– landed him a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama.Calling it Anthromod, the young man has developed a sensor-based prosthetic that doesn’t rely on muscle contractions, but can be controlled through an EEG headset by the user’s mind.
LaChappelle is using 3D printing, because as he explains, the technology itself isn’t so complicated, but is held back by the immense costs involved. LaChappelle taught himself how to design, make and code his creations on a tight budget. The hands he builds cost as little as US$600 to make.
“3D printing allows you to create something that’s human-like, something that’s extremely customised, again for a very low cost, which for certain applications such as prosthetics, is a really big part of it,” says LaChappelle.
Easton is currently on the fifth iteration of his robotic prosthetics, all of which are 3D printed prototypes intended for different applications. The young engineer is even envisioning a hand that can be used at distances when, for instance, dealing with explosives or dangerous chemicals.
“This reads right about 10 channels of the brain, so it kind of works kind of like a muscle sensor in that it picks up small electric discharges and turns that into something you can actually read within software, and then we actually track patterns and try and convert that into movement. So with this I’m actually able to change grips, grip patterns, based on facial gestures, and then use the raw actual brainwaves and focus to actually close the hand or open the clamp or hand,” he told Reuters Television.
In 2012, when LaChapelle was a sophomore, he attended the International Science Fair in Pittsburgh where he placed 2nd in the world in engineering. With this, he began gaining a lot of media attention which then landed him an invitation to the White House Science Fair in early 2013 where he was 1 of 100 students that were invited. From that he was one of 7 students that got a chance to speak with President Obama. Right there in the dining room of the White House President Obama shook hands with Easton’s robotic arm.
LaChappelle has made his software open source because he wants others to use his work as a platform to create customised versions for themselves. He has also funded his own company, Unlimited Tomorrow, aiming to develop an exoskeleton to help paraplegics walk again.