Easton LaChappelle, a teenage innovator, is the featured speaker for Tech Up Southern Utah’s “Big Event” Tuesday, Nov. 10, at 1 p.m. Chappelle will share his story and show his brain-powered robotic arm in the Sharwan Smith Center Ballroom on the campus of Southern Utah University. The event is free and open to the public courtesy of SUU Regional Services, Cedar City Utah Events, and Tech Up Southern Utah.
In attendance will be local high-tech firms, SUU students, and the public. Special guests are the Lego League (robotics) teams from elementary and middle schools, as well as high school students from the VEX robotics and 3-D printing classes.
Author and motivational speaker Tony Robbins says he is “completely inspired” by LaChappelle and calls him a “bright and ambitious innovator.” In his new book, Robbins devotes a section to disruptive innovators and tells LaChappelle’s story about maximizing technology to help others.
At age 14, LaChappelle made his first robotic hand out of LEGOs with fishing line for the tendons and electrical tubing for the fingers. With LaChappelle’s gradual improvement of his work, the hand turned into an arm and advanced to a 3-D-printed invention that he could operate with his mind.
After an encounter with a seven-year-old girl at a science fair whose prosthetic arm cost $80,000 and would need to be replaced when she outgrew it, LaChappelle was inspired to turn his prototype into a practical and affordable device. He started to make an impact from mostly self-taught robotics knowledge, and his designs were amazing for someone of his age.
LaChappelle, of Mancos, Colo., was selected as one of the 100 high school students chosen to visit the White House in 2013 to show the president their inventions. It was there that President Barack Obama shook hands with the now famous robotic arm. Since the meeting with the president and as the result of national media coverage, LaChappelle has traveled to nearly every continent, inspiring people with his technology, which many feel can change the world for the better.
He’s worked as an intern at NASA on the “Robonaut” project and developed a new telerobotic interface.
He shocked the world during the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) when he announced that he realized that his 3-D printed robotic arm was a project bigger than himself. He told a stunned audience that he was releasing the designs and software for free to the entire world by making it “open source” and that his aim was to enable other people to take what he has done, do something more with it, and impact more lives.
He founded his own company when he was 18. It is aptly named “Unlimited Tomorrow,” and its mission is to keep the needs of users first and to provide “extreme technology” at an affordable price. In addition to improving robotic arms, his next frontier is to develop a sleek new exoskeleton suit that will help paraplegics walk again.
LaChappelle and his invention were featured in the November 2015 edition of Popular Mechanics magazine. His robotic arm was listed as one of 24 “Breakthroughs That Will Blow Your Mind.”