Innovation & Technology

Our Featured Exhibitor : Easton LaChappelle

Courtesy of  Stefanie Dazio/Durango Herald staff writer, durangoherald.com

 

More About Easton

The next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates


Photo by: Courtesy Photo/NASA Mancos high school student Easton LaChappelle is welcomed to NASA's Johnson

Easton LaChappelle is at forefront of innovation
By Tobie Baker Journal staff writer - CortezJournal.com

At 17 years old, Easton LaChappelle has gone places few at his age may ever go.

Previously featured in Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines, the senior-to-be at Mancos High School has created a brain-controlled prosthetic arm for $250. He made all the joints, gears and custom parts needed for the robotic limb from two 3D printers in his bedroom.

"I look forward to the day when Easton becomes the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates," said Dean Jarvis. "He definitely has that kind of potential."

An above-the-knee amputee, Jarvis founded the inaugural Amputee Long Drive Championship held earlier this month at the Tennessee National Golf Club. The event, in part, was created to showcase innovators in the industry, and Jarvis invited LaChappelle to be a featured exhibitor at the introductory event.

"Easton is one of the most amazing and impressive young men I've ever met," he said via telephone. "It's unbelievable that someone his age can be out there on the cutting edge."

Jarvis told the Mancos Times that LaChappelle's brain-controlled device is not only moving the ball forward in the field of prosthesis, but also for those suffering from multiple sclerosis or paralysis who may need help in regaining use of their limbs.

"I don't know anyone doing a better job than Easton in helping to change other people's lives," he said.

In addition to aiding handicapped golfers on the greens, LaChappelle has also been busy this summer in advancing the nation's space exploration. Through a summer internship at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, LaChappelle has been working on mechanical designs for NASA's Robonaut project. A Robonaut is a dexterous humanoid robot built and designed to help humans work and explore in outer space.

"I really look up to everyone that works here at NASA, because the end product is literally out of this world," he said by email. "These are the best of the best, and they hold the future of space travel."

LaChappelle said his interest in robotics was sparked after encountering an expensive single-movement prosthesis worn by a 7-year-old girl at the state science fair.

"That was my ah-ha moment," he said.

Inspired by a little girl from the science fair, he now has his sights on becoming a 21st century pioneer and entrepreneur.

"What I'm doing is my passion, and even when I'm done with college I want to continue this," he said. "I have multiple job offers that would require a degree, but I'm more interested and happier with what I'm doing."

A maverick thinker and doer, entrepreneur, innovator and humanitarian, LaChappelle was one of only nine teens from across the state invited in April to be a presenter at TEDxYouth@MileHigh.

He also showed off his robotic arm, powered by a commercial-grade brain-wave-reading device called the Neurosky, this spring to President Barack Obama.

A featured exhibitor at the annual White House Science Fair, LaChappelle's prosthesis is controlled through a sophisticated system of blinks and thoughts. The software is smart enough to learn a user's daily patterns and make certain movements easier at specific times.

"Let me just say, in my official capacity as president, this stuff is really cool," President Obama reportedly said of the science fair participants.

In addition to the opportunity in Washington, D.C., LaChappelle placed second in the world in engineering at the 2012 International Science Fair. During his tenure as Mancos, school Superintendent Brian Hanson said, no Mancos student has ever received the notoriety that LaChappelle has from a science fair project.

"Easton is just a phenomenal student," Hanson said. "We're all proud as we can be of him and what he's been able to accomplish."

LaChappelle is the younger of two sons to Patrick and Julia. Neither parent is an engineer, but his mother said her family has roots that trace back to an engineer who served as an aide to Thomas Edison.

"We've just always been very supportive of our boys, and we tried to teach them if they started something, then finish it," she said.

Since LaChappelle started developing robotic arms at age 14, his parents have been there every step of the way watching, and the view has been extraordinary.

"Easton has been an inspiration to so many, and he continues to keep us in awe," his mother said. "We believe he's destined to do great things."

Tinkering with robotics over the last three years, LaChappelle said he has always thought it was cool to make things, and with a youthful outlook on the future, all is possible.

"I can automate and make anything," he said. "My ultimate goal is to help people and change someone's life. If I am able to do so, to me, that makes my life complete."
tbaker@cortezjournal.com

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