At 23, Easton LaChappelle has been called "the next Elon Musk" by none other than Tony Robbins. Those are great expectations to set for any young person, but LaChappelle is no ordinary entrepreneur. The inventor is trying to make prosthetic devices more affordable using 3D printing, and he's already made impressive progress.
LaChappelle has always loved to tinker with electronics. Growing up in rural Colorado, he taught himself the basics of robotics using YouTube and by Skyping experts around the world. At age 14, he built his first working robotic hand using LEGOs, fishing wire and electrical tubing.
For his 16th birthday, LaChappelle got a 3D printer, which "enabled a whole new world of creation," he tells CNBC Make It. The teen printed a robotic arm, powered it with a windshield wiper motor and submitted it to the 2012 Colorado State Science Fair.
During the public viewing at the science fair, LaChappelle noticed a girl scoping out his project. "She was focused on so many small details and that caught my eye," he says. "I realized that she was missing her right arm and was wearing a prosthetic device. This was the first time I really saw a prosthetic device and was really able to talk to an amputee."
The girl's prosthetic was, he says, a "simple, human-like claw" with just one motion — it could either open or close. Still, it cost a fortune: $80,000, he learned after talking to her parents. As she grew, her family would have to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep replacing the device.
"It's like having to buy an $80,000 pair of shoes," says LaChappelle, and that "blew me away. It motivated me to really take this to the next level."