At 23, Easton LaChappelle has been called “the next Elon Musk” by none other than Tony Robbins. Those are great expectations to set for any young person, but LaChappelle is no ordinary entrepreneur.
The inventor is trying to make prosthetic devices more affordable using 3D printing, and he’s already made impressive progress.
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LaChappelle has always loved to tinker with electronics. Growing up in rural Colorado, he taught himself the basics of robotics using YouTube and by Skyping experts around the world. At age 14, he built his first working robotic hand using LEGOs, fishing wire and electrical tubing.
For his 16th birthday, LaChappelle got a 3D printer, which “enabled a whole new world of creation,” he tells CNBC Make It. The teen printed a robotic arm, powered it with a windshield wiper motor and submitted it to the 2012 Colorado State Science Fair.
During the public viewing at the science fair, LaChappelle noticed a girl scoping out his project. “She was focused on so many small details and that caught my eye,” he says. “I realized that she was missing her right arm and was wearing a prosthetic device. This was the first time I really saw a prosthetic device and was really able to talk to an amputee.”
The girl’s prosthetic was, he says, a “simple, human-like claw” with just one motion — it could either open or close. Still, it cost a fortune: $80,000, he learned after talking to her parents. As she grew, her family would have to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep replacing the device.
“It’s like having to buy an $80,000 pair of shoes,” says LaChappelle, and that “blew me away. It motivated me to really take this to the next level.”
LaChappelle’s bedroom became “pretty much a lab with a bed in the corner,” he says, where he worked to turn his prototype into a practical, affordable device. “At one point I had three, 3D printers running 24-7 in there. I had a main desk where I would solder and write software. I had a fabrication bench where I would use power tools like Dremel tools, saws, grinders and drills.”
Later in 2012, he brought his same robotic arm to the International Science and Engineering Fair, the world’s largest international pre-college science competition, and took second place in the engineering category. “That put me on a lot of different radars,” says LaChappelle.
He started traveling the world for speaking engagements and was invited to intern with NASA to work on the Robonaut, a humanoid robot designed to work side by side with humans in space. He even got an invite to the White House, along with other young inventors, and showed his project to President Barack Obama.
In 2014, bestselling author and business strategist Tony Robbins took notice. After watching a TED Talk LaChappelle gave about 3D printing in animatronics (aka, life-like robots) the self-made millionaire reached out.
“I called him up, had this conversation and realized he is one of the smartest, at any age, people in technology,” Robbins says. “This is the next Elon Musk and then some.”
LaChappelle was 17 at the time and about to graduate from high school. “This was a really big moment for me,” he says. “I was trying to decide: Do I go to college? Do I try and start a company myself and self-fund it? Do I go and find venture capitalists?”
The phone call from Robbins, who wanted to partner with him, made the decision easy: LaChappelle decided not to apply and forewent college to continue building robotic arms. He launched his company, Unlimited Tomorrow, with Robbins in February 2014.
“He provided investment, mentorship and guidance to be able to go from a bedroom in Colorado to a garage to a facility, [and] to be able to start working with big companies,” says LaChappelle.
Besides joining forces with Robbins, who has invested $150,000 in the company, he has partnered with major industry players like Microsoft, the software company Dassault Systèmes and Arrow Electronics, all of which help make the product better, he says.
Today, Unlimited Tomorrow is valued at $10 million, he says. He serves as CEO and has seven employees.
Read more about Easton LaChappelle here: https://cnb.cx/2L39uYn
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Meet the 23-year-old inventor Tony Robbins calls ‘the next Elon Musk’ | CNBC Make It.