Many of us believe in destiny. But it’s the defining moments that decide what our legacy will truly be.
Often, we can only see the significance of these moments in retrospect. A chance conversation. Getting a phone call when you least expected it. Saying ‘yes’ when others thought you were crazy for doing so.
As a 12-year old in rural Colorado, Easton LaChappelle didn’t have Unlimited Tomorrow on his mind. He didn’t have destiny at his fingertips. He had one thing: a curiosity in robotics.
The genesis of Unlimited Tomorrow and the realization of Easton’s mission – ‘to make technology accessible to those who need it most’ – is over a decade in the making. Yet, within the countless hours, designs, setbacks and triumphs, there were three moments. Moments that sometimes felt small, yet set Unlimited Tomorrow on its course to redefine how amputees and others live the richest life possible.
These are the moments that shaped who we are today.
Before the TED Talk and Barack Obama, there was a girl at a science fair.
When 15-year old Easton walked into the 2012 International Science and Engineering Fair, he knew he was on to something good.
Easton had spent the previous two years turning a curiosity in robotics into a fully-functional, wireless robotic limb. Impressively, the limb was operated through the use of a modified video gaming glove and parts which could read brainwaves. A prosthetic powered through thought.
The limb was a great leap forward from Easton’s first attempt, a hand devised from fishing wire, LEGOs and electrical tubing. Easton had taught himself robotics, pursuing the subject feverishly through hours and hours of YouTube videos and Skype/email conversations with experts he sought out.
“[My first attempt] was a very primitive thing, but it was amazing turning an idea into reality,” Easton told UpRoxx of his first efforts, “That was extremely motivating to me. I didn’t really know anything about prosthetics. It wasn’t even on my radar quite yet.”
Over the next year, Easton would continually evolve his concept. He created a new design. He had new parts built through 3D-printing, a still-emerging technique in those days.
The look, feel and function of the arm set the international fair alight. Easton won second place in the engineering category, a major accolade for a young man with just a few years of robotics experience.
But it wasn’t the award that set Easton on his path to reinventing the prosthetic. It was a conversation with a 7-year old girl.
This girl had a prosthetic arm. Curious, she approached Easton’s project and marveled at how fluidly the fingers moved.
In the conversation that followed, her parents revealed that the arm cost $80,000 – and would eventually need to be replaced by another prosthetic when it was grown out of. Additionally, this prosthetic had a highly limited range of motion.
Easton was stunned. His creation cost only a few hundred dollars to build. And his prosthetic offered a lot more interactivity.
This cavernous divide was the inspiration that Easton needed. His goal wasn’t to win medals; it was to turn his prototype into something more affordable, accessible and impactful for anyone.
When Easton Met Tony
The science fair triumph opened some big doors for Easton. He brought his prosthetic arm to shake hands with then-President Obama at the White House Science Fair. He interned at NASA. He was invited to give a TED Talk on 3D printing in animatronics.
Easton didn’t pay much attention to the growing fame. But one person who did was acclaimed author and business strategist Tony Robbins. Who was this young man and was his invention really as brilliant as all these luminaries and organizations were making it out to be?
In 2014, Robbins decided to find out for himself. He called Easton up for a chat. What he heard astounded him.
“[We] had this conversation and I realized he is one of the smartest, at any age, people in technology,” Robbins told CNBC. “This is the next Elon Musk and then some.”
Always one to follow his beliefs, Robbins was moved to help Easton realize the potential of his intellect and his vision.
He made a proposal: I’ll be your partner.
The timing couldn’t have been more fortuitous for Easton, who was in his last year of high school and weighing between college or taking a leap and starting a company at 17.
Easton said yes to the opportunity and the potential. He teamed up with Tony and, with funding, mentorship and guidance, launched Unlimited Tomorrow.
Over time, Easton’s craftsmanship and Robbins’s business acumen opened the door for partnerships with engineering and technology powerhouses, including Arrow Electronics, Microsoft and Dassault Systemes.
Robbins remains a partner in Unlimited Tomorrow and a trusted counsel to Easton, appearing on the likes of The Dr. Oz Show and CNBC to promote the company’s recent 100 Tomorrow’s campaign. For both Easton and Tony, a little curiosity has made all the difference.
Microsoft and Momo
You know Microsoft. You may not know Momo. Yet without Momo, there is no Microsoft – at least not in the Unlimited Tomorrow story.
Momo Sutton lives in Tampa. Momo was 9 when she and Easton first met, through the M.U.C.H. Foundation. Born without a right forearm or hand, Momo dreamed of having an arm with fingers that moved. Could Easton do it, M.U.C.H. wondered.
Meeting Momo lit a new fire under Easton. He was reminded of his conversation at the science fair years earlier. Momo would be the perfect candidate to receive the first of a new generation of 3D-printed prosthetics he was developing.
Easton’s mission became singular: Let’s do it for Momo – because if we can do it for her, we can do it for everyone.
Easton worked fervently. Yet, he ran into the limitations any ambitious small business faces. Resources and funding grew tight.
It was exactly at that moment that Microsoft came into Easton’s world. They had heard about the project and learned that he was using Microsoft products like the Surface and the Xbox Kinect sensor to design, 3D-print and operate limbs that were far more faithful to the look and function of a human limb than anything out there.
Impressed, Microsoft invited Easton to the company’s lauded and highly guarded Advanced Prototyping Center – Building 87 – and surrounded him with nearly two dozen engineers and extensive computing and printing resources to help bring his vision to life.
Along the way, a handful of Microsoft’s industrial designers set aside other projects to work solely with Easton. Late nights were typical, as the team worked with a singular focus toward its goal.
By June 2017, the arm was ready. Using scans taken from an everyday webcam, Easton and the team were able to create a limb that mirrored the contours of Momo’s arm, all the way down to skin tone and the shape of her fingers. It weighed less than a pound and it offered an entire range of motion that went far beyond what Momo could previously do with her old prosthesis: grip, squeeze, bend, shake, high-five.
A video of Easton presenting the arm to Momo and Momo marveling at her new arm became a sensation. Within 24 hours, the clip received over 1.2 million views and was shared nearly 20,000 times. The story made headlines across major media.
Momo gave Easton the inspiration. Microsoft gave Easton the tools. Both of them gave Unlimited Tomorrow a clear course for the future.
Writing the next story
The 24+ months since that magical day in June 2017 have been marked by a flurry of growth. A crowdfunding campaign in 2018 raised nearly $1.6 million in under 30 days. Easton moved his company to a bigger facility in New York state, where he could put together a team of engineers and ramp up production.
This expansion culminated in the 100 Tomorrow’s campaign in late 2018, which raised over $500,000 to manufacture and deliver 100 prosthetics to 100 passionate, zestful individuals with a shared desire to redefine what prosthetics are capable of.
The journey of Easton LaChappelle and Unlimited Tomorrow has been one of serendipity and support, strength and success. Ever the active participants in their story, Easton and the team are writing the future of the company with the same poise that a curious kid in Colorado had nearly a decade ago, striving to bring an ambitious idea to life.