UCF students working in the Limbitless Solutions lab pre-COVID pandemic.

Full STEAM Ahead: Limbitless Solutions to Launch New High-Impact Research Facility

By: Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala on

Big changes and even bigger possibilities are coming to Limbitless Solutions in 2021. Starting Oct. 1, Limbitless Solutions will begin renovating a 6,500-foot space in Central Florida Research Park adjacent to campus to make it the perfect space for the organization’s plans.

The nonprofit, based near UCF’s football stadium on campus, has been creating bionic limbs for children since 2014. The group’s innovative designs and ability to use technology to create functional and artistic bionic arms for children has led to much community support and two clinical trials. More is in the works as the team explores other areas where their bionic skills can be put to use. The organization has outgrown its space, which led to the board of directors approving a plan in August to expand its lab.

Architects start work in October with move-in scheduled for early 2021. The new space is being designed to expand the group’s research and production capabilities. The new research space is designed to enhance the kind of interdisciplinary work necessary to find solutions and which has led to Limbitless’ success.

“We wanted to make a space where engineers, scientists, artists and storytellers could come together to tackle challenges and stigma associated with accessibility and mobility,” says Mrudula Peddinti ’18, human experience design lead“Each semester we have advanced that STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) environment here in our current lab and the impact has been amazing. I can’t wait to see the impact the fusion of disciplines will have as the program continues to grow.”

Lessons from its Growing Impact

The current space at Limbitless shows how much the organization has grown. The manufacturing zone has expanded into other spaces to house new machines used to innovate and streamline the bionic arms and other research projects.

The addition of new machinery sparked the idea for a new creative space, specifically designed with extended workspaces for student collaboration. The scale and speed of everyday research at Limbitless made it clear that additional dedicated manufacturing and testing space was also necessary. The safety of all those using specialized equipment is a critical component in the design of the space that will house full automotive-grade paint airbrush stations, industrial 3D printers and a new vacuum forming production process. All these stations will be under one roof, giving art and engineering students the ability to work together collaboratively.

With several additional partnerships pending, the need for space to support these endeavors is pressing. Currently, Limbitless is working with several hospitals on new potential research studies to test and evaluate new bionic arm features and gauge user feedback. Through pilot clinical trials with Oregon Health & Science University and Mayo Clinic Jacksonville, the Limbitless team gained new insight into how the designs perform for users in real life beyond the laboratory.

The new facility’s design also includes a dedicated manufacturing and paint chamber focused on the safety and eventual manufacturing scalability of the design work. For UCF students, this space will house unique learning opportunities to gain hands-on experience with biomedical engineering, manufacturing, and research testing. The space will also be a catalyst for more interaction with UCF’s Biionix Cluster’s faculty and students. The cluster of dedicated faculty aims to advance novel technologies, such as prosthetics, that bridge engineering, science, and medicine

The plans include working with regulatory authorities, including the Food and Drug Administration, on fulfillment of requirements for clearance of full-scale distribution of devices.

A New Chapter: Projects to Benefit Adults

The selected location has many benefits, including more than 2½ times the space of the current lab, and requires only minor renovations for the equipment and student programs before its debut. With the added equipment and space, Limbitless Solutions plans to expand its reach by modifying its bionic-arm designs for adults — focused on supporting veterans and first responders.

The unique design features pioneered to meet kids’ needs, such as minimized weight and video game-based training, will unlock new options for adults who may have had limb amputations. Expression will remain core to the design, thanks to an array of partner designs, including character and world-inspired bionic arms from the Halo video game franchise (343 Industries) and League of Legends (RIOT Games). Video games, such as these, have a large adult following.

Benefits to UCF Students

UCF students started Limbitless Solutions and they continue to be a major driving force. It employs and offers formal internships to students and takes its responsibility of inspiring the next generation of problem solvers seriously.

Limbitless’ student-research program’s participation has grown substantially since its inception — with more than 30 students participating in the lab in Spring 2020 representing nine different UCF colleges.

The program has seen results at the local, national and global stages, participating in three presentations at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, including alumna Sarah Kelliher ‘19 as the first UCF undergraduate student to present at the UN and staff and alumna Peddinti in 2019.

Through the COVID-19 health crisis challenges, Limbitless students have used virtual tools to keep the interdisciplinary undergraduate research teams active and engaged.

“One takeaway has been no matter what the world throws at us, everyone will continue to do everything they can to help this organization,” says Christina Canjura, a sophomore mechanical engineering student and Limbitless intern.

The future laboratory will create an environment for the significant and continued growth of the student research program. The program provides strong project-based learning through fundamental and clinical research with a focus on interdisciplinary teamwork to convert ideas into real community impact.

I learned how effectively an interdisciplinary team can work together and how to work outside of my comfort zone, “says Shea McLinden, a sophomore health sciences student and Limbitless research intern.

Paying it Forward

This unique interdisciplinary activity is of high interest to local K-12 school districts, whose partnership have brought school buses of students for field trips to visit Limbitless Solutions. The new facility will include a dedicated educational outreach center to welcome even more students without slowing down production. Program partners and sponsors including AdobeAutodesk, Curley & Pynn, Paul B. Hunter & Constance D. Hunter Charitable Foundation, James D. Scheinfeld Family Foundation, Stratasys, and others have played key roles in developing the program into the current burgeoning program.

Preliminary timelines show design work being completed in the fall with renovations anticipated to start in January. Tentative move in and equipment installation is scheduled for March. Limbitless has raised its own funds to make the new lab a reality. It has met 90 percent of its goal for Phase 1.

“Limbitless’ start at a kitchen table leading to this is a dream come true,” says Limbitless Solutions president Albert Manero ‘12 ‘14’ 16PhD. “We could not continue our mission without the support of our community and our partners. Change, growth and limitless possibilities happen when we work together.”

To learn more and support Limbitless Solutions, visit www.limbitless-solutions.org.

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