Kids Make The Darndest Things: Easton LaChappelle’s Robotic Arm

Posted by on Monday, August 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

Say hello to what kids can do with 3D printing, open source hardware, and YouTube.

Easton LaChapelle is now a Junior in high school and he’s already got some impressive credits to his name. His first robotic hand, controlled remotely by a glove with sensors sewn into it, won him 3rd place in the Colorado state science fair as a freshman, which reserved him a seat at the national fair in Los Angeles as an observer. This also won him some nice coverage in Popular Mechanics.

While developing the project, Easton got in touch with Jeremy Blum, whose YouTube videos have over 4 million views. Jeremy helped clear up some of the code for the control glove to communicate wirelessly with the hand. To do this on the cheap, Easton bought an old Nintendo Power Glove off the Internet and raided it for sensors. Watch this video of Easton testing the hand’s strength in this video.

As we all know, award-winning robotic hands grow up to become sweet, award-winning robotic arms. After Easton’s success with his first hand, he looked for ways to improve it. The first step was to fabricate the hand how he wanted it. 3D printing services in the area quoted him $500 to deliver on his designs, which was pretty far outside his high school budget.

Back to Jeremy Blum. Full disclosure: Jeremy is a current MakerBot employee and a longtime enthusiast of open source collaboration and 3D printing. He was in college at the time with plenty of access to a MakerBot Thing-O-Matic. He took Easton’s awesome designs and advised him on how to tweak things for a MakerBot. Then Jeremy made all the pieces on the Thing-O-Matic and shipped them to Easton in Colorado. He also advised Easton on how to convert a couple DC motors on the robotic arm to servos by adding potentiometers. That way they don’t just continue spinning forever, but stop when parts of the arm have hit the right position.

Well here’s the coolest part. This arm placed in the Second Award category for Engineering at the 2012 Intel International Science Fair, i.e. second in the world. Whoa. Easton’s story is timeless – someone trying to make a machine just for the fun of it, and finding every opportunity to do it for less money. But it’s also a perfectly modern one. He was in middle school when he discovered the resources online to take his simple fascination into reality. He was able to connect with someone across the country in no time and have his designs shipped relatively cheaply.

Photo courtesy of Hacked Gadgets

What if he had had a MakerBot of his own from the beginning? How much sooner would Easton have been testing ideas and making waves in huge competitions?

Easton lists Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway and other machines, as a big inspiration. He told me on the phone that Kamen is working on a prosthetic limb, too, but that he plans to make a better one. We think he probably will.


Tagged with , , , 7 comments

7 Comments so far

  • Chris Chappell
    August 13, 2012 at 10:57 pm

    I’ve also been working on a robot hand for a while now. Mostly concentrating on hand design, low cost and ease of manufacture. A couple of the hands are on thingiverse (no 20210 and 27151). They’re designed for Nylon laser sintering, that many online services provide.

    I’m also working on the Mk3. This will have a clip on modular covering system, so that new parts can be added to the hand easily. This should really be a boon for makers since they can change the appearance and add sensors without worrying about the underlying mechanics of the hand. So it can go from research tool to a halloween outfit and back, in just a couple of minutes! Just need a makerbot to make your own covers.

    I’m planning for the Mk3 print cost to come in about 200-300euros.
    Anyone interested in developing robotic hands can contact me on my blog (

  • Andrew
    August 14, 2012 at 9:19 am

    So cool, Chris. Thanks for sharing!

  • Phoenix
    August 14, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    if everyone on thingiverse would pool their resources (design, wiring, programming code knowledge, etc…) we could have a fully functional and fully automated robot for performing basic tasks in no time, why let the big corperations have all the fun and get all the credit, if it wasn’t for their hogging all the breakthroughs to date we would all have personal robots by now.

    PS. movies like iRobot and terminator are false, the threat of robots taking over cannot happen unless we program them to, computers are stupid, they only know what you tell them.

  • Andrew
    August 21, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    I’m amazed every day by the 3D printing world! High schoolers building robotic arms was only a dream 10-15 years ago!!!


  • SimonR
    August 22, 2012 at 5:14 am

    Well done – what you’ve built is very impressive, particularly on a small budget!

    Your project shows what a difficult proposition it is to make realistic and useful prosthetics. There are very few prosthetic engineers who have done half of what you have so you should be very proud of yourself!

    Dean Kamen is kind of an inspiration to me too but more for his projects less well known than the Segway – cool though that is!

    Keep up the good work!


  • lea
    August 22, 2012 at 5:53 am

    The first picture looks really like a printed inmoov hand designed by hairygael on Thingiverse.

  • Brian
    August 24, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    OK – I wanted to get excited. I’ve got two teen boys that can use the motivation. BUT and that is a BIG BUT – To start an article with a Very Amazing Robotic Hand – InMoov which is not even related to the young man’s accomplishment and hint or insinuate that he did this item. That is plagarism. And not very good journalism. If you wanted to use IronMan or some public known to get interest and then lead into your article that would be OK.

    InMoov – search: Thingiverse and see post above, Is a very inventive project by a hairygael who is a designer from France. That is the robot hand you see at the beginning of the article. I understand that the young man in the article has been in contact with that inventor and asking him to do design, engineering and printing but, from the beginning of the project video I did not see InMoov… Or did I hear or read any reference to hairygael’s information, his project or his assistance.

    A BIG thing about the Maker and Open Source Movement is GrassRoots performing amazing things and all giving each other reference for our work, and help.

    I think you need to have a re-traction, re-think and re-write….. OR, make sure you have a quick follow up article about the association and the project InMoov.


    Brian Stott
    Maker wannabe….


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