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Teen's inexpensive 3D-printed prosthetic could aid amputees in the third world


August 13, 2013

Easton LaChappelle demonstrates his prosthetic arm to President Barack Obama at the third annual White House Science Fair (Photo: The White House)

Easton LaChappelle demonstrates his prosthetic arm to President Barack Obama at the third annual White House Science Fair (Photo: The White House)

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Advanced prosthetics have come a long way in the last few years, but the costs have also skyrocketed. A cheaper alternative may be on its way thanks to Easton LaChappelle, a 17-year old high school student from Colorado, who is using free online resources and the boom in inexpensive 3D printers to develop a functional prosthetic arm and hand. His projects have already earned him an invitation to the White House, and he's now working at NASA on the Robonaut team.

It all began when he was 14, when he decided to try to build a robotic hand using Lego. At the time he knew next to nothing about electronics, but learned through sites like Instructables how to get the hand to open and close its fingers using a combination of fishing line and servo motors. The project earned him third place at the 2011 Colorado State science fair.

It was there that he met a 7-year old girl who was wearing a state of the art prosthetic that cost an astounding US$80,000. Upon hearing that figure, LaChappelle became determined to design and build an inexpensive alternative. He soon discovered that manufacturing anything the old-fashioned way was prohibitively expensive, but luckily he had a friend with access to a 3D printer. He began working with Solidworks, a 3D modeling program, and looked for ready-made parts on Thingiverse, an online repository of open source models.

Soon he had designed an arm to go with an open source hand, both of which could be printed by his friend. Excluding the cost of the 3D printer itself (in this case, a sub-$1,000 Printrbot), the total cost was about $250. That project earned him an invitation to the third annual White House Science Fair, where he presented the arm to none other than US president Barack Obama. The president shook the prosthetic's hand and suggested LaChappelle show it to DARPA, which is funding the development of advanced prosthetics.

This version of the prosthetic costs less than US$500 dollars and is controlled using an EEG headband that measures brainwaves

These days LaChappelle is working at NASA's Johnson Space Center, where he's helping out the Robonaut team with telerobotics control. However, he hasn't forgotten that little girl he met at the science fair. "My goal for all of this is to create an affordable prosthetic," he tells me by email. "I am continuing my work to achieve that goal. I have started on the 3rd generation of the arm which will easily top everything so far!".

The new arm is more capable than the last, thanks to bigger gearboxes and multiple worm gear sets in one. And the new version of the hand moves all the motors that drive its fingers to the inside of the palm. They're small but powerful geared DC motors that can be controlled very accurately. He says that altogether, the new arm sports "extreme strength, functionality, costs under $500, and weighs less than a human arm."

While perfecting the new arm, LaChappelle has also helped out with related projects, such as this home-made prosthetic we covered earlier. And since meeting the president, LaChappelle was invited to show his arm at a TED conference. You can watch his presentation below, and follow his ongoing progress on Facebook and YouTube.

Via: 3ders

About the Author
Jason Falconer Jason is a freelance writer based in central Canada with a background in computer graphics. He has written about hundreds of humanoid robots on his website Plastic Pals and is an avid gamer with an unsightly collection of retro consoles, cartridges, and controllers. All articles by Jason Falconer

Someone once said that "necessity is the mother of all invention" and this achievement I believe is indicative of that. Well done keep up the good work. Often things are over complicated and made far more expensive than they should be in reality.

Trevor Wrn

I'd like to mention that I've been working with Easton on this project for nearly a year. My expertise has been in the design of the 3D printed parts, whilst he's been focused more on the electronics side of things. Also it was my contributions that went into the robohand design and can be seen on thingiverse (Search for username: Anthromod).

I want to say that Easton is a great guy to work with and certainly can achieve his goals. However the media does gloss over the level of collaboration involved.

We have quite a few further projects in the pipeline. Within a few days we will be testing out a functional finger prosthesis. The cost of which would be a few percent of the competitions. We have exoskeletons and biped robots on the drawing board. We have some upcoming further additions to the robohand, inspired by the 3d printed cast idea, which we hope to present soon. We are also working on customised hands for Universities such as the piano playing finger for Drexel University. All whilst fullfilling our successful Kickstarter campaign rewards. So all in all a busy next few months!

Christopher Chappell

Amazing advancements by mere children. The prosthetics industry should be ASHAMED at charging the prices they do, like the 80,000 arm! I doubt super low cost prosthetics will ever see the light of day as corporate (GREEDY) America has a way of killing true entrepreneurship and innovation!


Great ideas soon to be implemented without a factory of workers!

Al Martin

Congratulations to Easton LaChappelle on his own inventive and frugal working design that will one day bring hope to thousands who need such devices but at a fair, marketable price.

As a high school teacher, I am very proud of his focus and ambition to succeed for the betterment of others. I wish more students would exhibit his passion regardless of their specific interests.

The world looks forward to seeing future product designs from Easton!


As the parent of an amputee (leg) it's always awesome to see this type of innovation. But I'm tired of hearing how these innovations will be so beneficial to amputees in other parts of the world, and I wonder when then headlines will say "..will aid amputees right here in the USA." My son requires a new leg about every two years, each new leg costs upward of $30K AND, they aren't covered by insurance because they're classified as non-durable medical equipment. I'd be thrilled to find there was a $500 alternative. When will we start providing affordable alternatives to our amputees here at home?

Tracie Ewing


My Intent is very much so within the US. This will probably be the strongest market for something like this and it's a lot easier to adapt it to someone a few states away then a few countries away. Feel free to email me (njkl44@gmail.com), I've been thinking about leg prosthetics for a while and definitely see the need!

Thanks! Easton


This is a great hack!

Seth Miesters

Now, now. No need to shy away from the rest of the world. Helping another human being in need of a higher quality of living with this is always a noble vision to hold and fight for, fellow countrymen or not. :)

At the same I am also aware of some medical procedures and their ridiculous cost in the USA compared to the rest of the world. This will certainly add much needed competition!

Best of luck.

Fretting Freddy the Ferret pressing the Fret

Great work guys! As with the oculus rift, we're at a stage now where a motivated person or small group can do a lot with very little money. As with any other innovation in any other era, it clearly takes a vision and dedication. A bit of nerdy excitement doesn't go astray either :-)

Time for me to put a few of my ideas into reality!

John Hogan

I've had ideas like this before. It's not exactly the same as what I had in mind, but gosh darn it, now other people are getting a hold of the string-tendon arm craze.

Maybe I should hurry.

Jeff Leffler
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