The team at Limbitless designed new arms for the first clinical trial in the U.S. of its kind. (Photo by Nick Leyva ’15)

Limbitless Solutions Recaps an Extraordinary 2019 with Three More Hits

By: Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala on

Limbitless Solutions is celebrating the end of a successful 2019 with a bang — a presentation at the United Nations, a patent publication, and new funding for the continued development of training video games linked to its work.

“In 2019 Limbitless really took some big steps forward both in our research trials and advocating on the global stage. The announcement of the Pabst Steinmetz Foundation Arts & Wellness Innovation Award was a fantastic way to end the year,” says Albert Manero, the organization’s president and co-founder.

Bionic Arms

The UCF-based nonprofit began in 2014 with a few students who heard a mom’s plea, which prompted them to figure out how to help her son born without one of his arms from the elbow down. They created a functional 3D-printed arm for a 6-year-old boy. Fast forward and that boy is now 11 and part of a national clinical trial using an updated version of that first arm.

The functionality of the arm has improved, and thanks to UCF art students the designs are beautiful, reflecting children’s interest from video game characters to sea creatures. The team has a catalog of designs that children can select from when they become part of a trial, including designs from the Halo and League of Legends video game franchises.

The group hopes that a successful clinical trial and others in the future will eventually lead to the arms being made available to children around the world. The cost is much less than prosthetics available globally today and with success at trial, the hope is that insurance companies will cover the Limbitless bionics due to their impact and low manufacturing costs.

Project Xavier

The group has also developed a device to make wheelchairs mobile without needing anyone to push them. The user simply has to move facial muscles in a certain way, which generates an EMG (electromyography) signal that travels to a device that steers the wheelchair. The wheelchair work, nicknamed Project Xavier after the X-Men character, completed a small clinical trial with the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville late this year for ALS patients. ALS patients often require a wheelchair, but are challenged to control a traditional joystick. The first patent for this device was issued this fall.

The researchers are working on publishing their findings for the neurology community. The team also published two journal articles about its bionic arm and training system this fall and hopes to have several other publications once the larger bionic arm trial is complete, providing the opportunity to compete for federal grant funding.

STEAM and Future Problem Solvers

Limbitless founders believe in encouraging and supporting the next generation of innovators. That’s why all year the organization has been participating in various outreach efforts, from talking to students in local high schools to welcoming teens at the lab on campus. In January, the team hosted children from CodeOrlando, a program funded by Orlando Magic player Aaron Gordon’s foundation. The goal is to introduce young students to coding, robotics, and nanotechnology through immersive experiences.

2020 will bring more Central Florida students to participate at Limbitless Solutions, as the lab becomes a field trip location for school districts to engage middle and high school students in STEAM activities. In January, Limbitless will welcome its largest class of interns and scholars with a total of 34 undergraduate students participating.

Local and National Collaborations

Much of the team’s success can be linked to its approach to projects. Collaboration across industries and partners even in the most unlikely places is standard practice for this group of innovators.

Project Xavier led to a working relationship with the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. The group is also working with national brands such as Adobe, Microsoft, Stratasys, Autodesk and several video game companies including Riot Games and 343 Industries, among others. Each relationship adds a diverse voice to amplify the mission. For example, one of the team’s artists presented her story at Adobe Max in NovemberAdobe CEO Shantanu Narayen also focused his keynote speech during Adobe Max on the power of design to combine with technology to empower lives. He specifically praised Limbitless Solutions for doing just that and highlighted: “Limbitless [Solutions] unites arts and science to address a real-world need, adding a bit of joy and beauty in the process.”

The collaborations have been powered by students from a diverse set of majors around campus. For example, School of Visual Arts and Design artists, Nicholson School of Communication and Media game designers, Limbitless engineers and physicians at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville worked together on Project Xavier not only to build the technology, but also to now add a game to train those users. It’s this game project that received the Pabst Steinmetz Foundation Arts & Wellness Innovation Award, which allows for virtual “driving” training in a stress-free environment.

Limbitless continued to receive international attention. Representatives of Limbitless, and one of the children who has received an arm, presented at the United Nations for a second consecutive year at the request of Chief of Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“We are so grateful for the support from our community partners, who enabled us to grow our impact this year,” Manero said. “We are really excited for what is in store for 2020.”

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