This lifelike robotic arm gets smarter over time

Easton LaChappelle, CEO of advanced prosthetics company Unlimited Tomorrow, talks about the updates to the company’s prosthetic arm that utilises artificial intelligence. Following is a transcript of the video.

Steve Kovach: Luke Skywalker gets his arm cut off and he, you don’t even notice it’s a fake hand.

Easton LaChappelle: Yeah, absolutely.

Steve Kovach: Is that gonna happen ever?

Easton LaChappelle: We are very close, actually.

Kovach: I’m Steve Kovach with Business Insider, here with Easton LaChappelle, the CEO of advanced prosthetics company, Unlimited Tomorrow. The last time I saw your prototype, it looked kind of like this Terminator thing. What has changed in the last year or so?

LaChappelle: There have been so many advances in 3D printing, electronics, and even software. It just helped really form this really intuitive, natural product for us. You can do a lot of different movements with this and this is designed for a child. There’s a very fine line to balance between giving them full control and having everything attached to motors or having something that is manually actuated, such as the thumb. So you can click that into place. We have sensors that actually monitor the position of that. We’ve also found that this is more intuitive and easier to learn.

Kovach: So how does the wearer control it?

LaChappelle: We’ve developed new advanced muscle sensors. And so we collect a tremendous amount of data. And that’s really where artificial intelligence, machine learning, neural networks, come into play, where we can take all this raw data, which, to a human, would be extremely hard to filter and look at it and translate that into something meaningful. With AI, we can do that automatically. We actually track the amount of force that the hand is exerting on an object and we relay that and communicate that through haptics over vibrations.

Kovach: So the wearer is feeling something happening?

LaChappelle: Yeah, and by doing that we create feedback loops to the mind. And that allows easier use and it starts becoming second nature, actually. And we can turn something that would take months to learn down into a couple minutes or hours.

Kovach: And how’s that compare to sensors, or prosthetics today? So I know if someone wants a prosthetic today, they have to go in, they have to get measured. It seems like you guys have kind of cut that out, right?

LaChappelle: Yeah, and that was a big part. You know, again, our goal is to get this to as many people as possible. And we see a lot of resistance with this current kind of business model and process, where prosthetic manufacturers up charge and sell to these prosthetic offices and there’s a tremendous amount of custom work. So it’s all, you know, taking plaster molds and casts and it can take months to make the socket. So we’re using new digital and software means to be able to automate that and make it really fast down into a couple days, versus a couple months. What’s really special about Unlimited Tomorrow is we created a scalable processes with this. So we deploy 3D scanners, which are low cost, to amputees. So say if they’re missing their right arm, we actually scan both the right arm and the left arm. And we use this data to create a mirror image, a proportional custom device for each person. We can go from raw 3D scan to customised proportional device instantly, which is huge.

Kovach: How far away are we from a future where these are almost indistinguishable from regular human limbs? Or like, you know, Luke Skywalker gets his arm cut off and he, you don’t even notice it’s a fake hand.

LaChappelle: We are very close, actually. We can actually build up skin that mimics the human body. The scan data that we get from a person is essentially a 3D image of their arm and their hand. And so we can print, you know, certain blemishes and freckles and hairs and pretty much take this image and print it over this.

Kovach: Your business model is very different than a typical startup. I imagine you could go knock on VC stores and get gazillions of dollars in funding right away if you wanted to. You’re doing something different, you’re crowdfunding and giving people who help crowdfund equity. Talk a little bit about that.

LaChappelle: Today we’re doing this, we’re raising money in a, kind of this new model, which is equity crowdfunding. We turn to the people. So essentially, unaccredited investors and accredited investors can now invest into Unlimited Tomorrow. Already, within a couple weeks, we’ve raised about $US350,000 and it’s growing very fast.

Kovach: And then what’s next? Where are we gonna be a year from now?

LaChappelle: About seven months ago, Unlimited Tomorrow hit a huge milestone, which is putting this on a 10-year-old girl named Momo. And that was with the help of Microsoft. Now we’re looking at the next 100, and thousands, and, you know, really scaling this all over the world. And so we’re starting to partner with some very large companies around the world to help us, both the technology side and the business side, to be able to accommodate that. Later this year we’re launching the Indiegogo campaign to help raise more funds to be able to really push these first units out into the world and really start creating change.

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