Just like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg before him, Easton LaChapelle is on his way to becoming a tech superstar without ever having gone to college.
Normally, a person your age would be in college, but you’ve accomplished so much already — would you ever consider getting a degree?
It was kind of an obvious option [to skip college] with how much momentum I had, the knowledge I have, and the resources I’ll have in the future as well. So it was obvious that I had to continue down the path that I had started. Nonetheless, it was a big life decision that went against the grain. You don’t typically graduate from high school and start a business. You kinda go down the conventional path. But my parents were very supportive after they saw how serious I was about my business.
Has your age ever been an issue for you? Have you found that people take you less seriously after finding out how young you are?
A: Yes and no. I encountered that when I was younger. My high school doubted what I was doing just because of who I was at the time — just a youngster who liked to make stuff. But when I started posting YouTube videos that led to Popular Science coverage, it led to a lot of validation, which was amazing.
In the engineering world, that’s the perfect justification that you’re actually doing something serious. I started gaining respect with things like that, but a big turning point for me was my TED Talk. I started making a name for myself, so I don’t think there was much resistance from companies or individuals who said, “Oh, you can’t do that.” Maybe there was, but I never gave it the time of day. I was so focused, because this is my passion. I like to create, I love what I do, and no one can tell me differently.
You recently made a free, high-end prosthetic for Momo, a 9-year-old girl who was born without her forearm and hand. What was it like working with Microsoft on this project?
A: I was working with Momo for about a year and a half. I was in communication with her parents via Skype. So it was kind of interesting that up to meeting her in person, I only knew her through the computer, data and 3D scans. We scanned her left arm and mirrored it, so it has all of her contours and dimensions. It’s a weird situation to know a person just based off of that data. But all that just kept me motivated to create this amazing device for her, to empower her and give her independence.
When I presented her and her mom with the prosthetic, it was really amazing just to see their emotions and faces. They had no idea what to expect, but they were blown away. They didn’t know that the skin color would match hers and it’s soft to the touch. The hand we made is actually lighter than her mechanical version, and it even has fingernails she can paint. When Momo first put it on, she was so happy that her legs were jumping up and down. You could see the anticipation and excitement — she just wanted to put it on right out of the box. I almost had to stop her and be like, “Wait, I have to tell you how everything works, then it’s all yours.”
You’re now on a mission to help more people in need of affordable, high-quality prosthetics. How are you going to do that?
We put the first device on this little girl, but now we’re looking for the next amputees to work with. Around the end of the year we’re planning a crowdfunding campaign to create the next 100 hands to be able to donate them to amputees around the world. After that, we’ll be scaling and growing the business.