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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has almost 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the design … More »

Skipping School To Innovate

 
June 27th, 2014 by Jeff Rowe

During the course of a year I get the opportunity to attend several events and meet a lot of new people involved with various aspects of design, engineering, and manufacturing. This week I attended an event called “3D Printing Day @ CSU.” Held on the campus of Colorado State University, it showcased the Idea-2-Product Laboratory, the brainchild of its director, and our good friend, Dr. David Prawel. It was a combination seminar series and tours of the Lab where a number of 3D printers were demonstrated.

One of the most interesting and compelling seminar talks was given by Easton LaChappelle, a 17-year-old from Mancos, CO who graduated from high school last month. His talk was on his experience with 3D printing, prosthetics, and telerobotics

Easton LaChappelle – Montage

He began working with robotics when he was 14 and his long-term goal is to create an affordable upper-limb prosthesis that is neural controlled with extraordinary human strength. He has three 3D printers in his bedroom where he makes all the joints, gears, and custom parts needed for his robotic limbs, and his work has been featured in Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines.

His goal is to keep everything external (exoskeleton), wireless, and at some point controlled by system interfaces with the brain. He wants to “surpass human functionality with mechanics” by making an arm capable of lifting 200 pounds and rotating a full 360 degrees. Also, his experimental arms can be built for less than $500, compared with commercially available prosthetic arms (really little more than grasping “claws”) that cost multiple tens of thousands of dollars.

Last summer he worked on NASA’s Robonaut project, but became frustrated at how slow things moved within the agency, and has vowed not to work directly for a government organization again in the future.

3D Printing in Animatronics: Easton LaChappelle at TEDxMileHigh

Although just graduated from high school, he has been offered several college scholarship and invitations to direct projects at universities. At this time, however, he’s building his own robotics business and says if he went to college now he’d probably just be doing the same work in a different environment.

The amazing thing is that he taught himself how to do all of this. He said that “All of this is a personal project, and formal schooling hasn’t really contributed much.”

He told me his goal has always been to help people, and he always “Considers the user first.” What a great attitude and mindset that we can all learn from and should aspire to. This inspiring young man has a great future ahead of him in whatever he chooses to do, and we wish him all the best.

I’ve always been a huge proponent of education – everything from formal to self-taught – and Easton is proof positive that innovation is definitely possible by taking an alternative path away from conventional education.

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One Response to “Skipping School To Innovate”

  1. Dennis Nagy says:

    The devil (or in this case, the “angel”) might be in the details: Did he need some math, physics, etc. to develop his robot arm? Did he teach himself all of that or get it “in school”? There is a large human nature trait to think you did it all yourself when you are successful and attribute nothing to what others have provided–others who went to school. But for every Easton LaChappelle who did it without much help from traditional schooling (like Bill Gates after dropping out of Harvard–but he had a successful lawyer as a father), there are hundreds or thousands of dropouts flipping hamburgers today. The key (and what David Prawel has done) is to create/enable an innovation track in traditional schooling and roll over the traditional bureaucrats who get in the way by spending all their time arguing over whether creationism should be taught in science.

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