His a-ha moment for his startup? When a young girl stopped by his project at the science fair, wearing an $80,000 prosthetic hand that was “a human-like claw with one sensor she was going to outgrow in a year,” he said. “I couldn’t believe this thing I made for $200 in my bedroom was better.”
LaChappelle and 14-year-old Aashna Patel, who received one of the first prosthetic limbs the company produced — are the subjects of an inspiring film called The Inventor, the second in the Generation Impact series produced by the Garage by HP. Filmmakers Sarah Klein and Tom Mason of Redglass Pictures said they were drawn to LaChappelle as a subject partly because his invention requires synergy — after LaChappelle’s work is done, the customer has to learn to operate the device using muscle memory.
It required a lot of “concentration and fortitude,” Mason says, for Patel, an eighth grader, who we watch in the film as she learns to use the hand to throw a ball, hold an onion, or make any other motion she might want. The Inventor is also a tale of the age we’re in — where a curious mind using not much more than open source designs and ingenuity — can invent devices that couldn’t have been developed even a decade ago in a lab, and shake up an entire industry.
“The level of innovation in this story could only happen right now,” Klein says.
LaChappelle has been inventing practically since birth. He grew up in the one-stoplight town of Mancus, Colorado, a “forcing function,” he says, because the town’s tiny school (his graduating class had 23 students) couldn’t keep up with him. He was the kind of kid who would ask the local drug store for all the disposable cameras they’d throw away after they developed the film — he wanted to extract the capacitor (the thing that made the clicking noise and powered the flash.)