Homegrown bionics company Limbitless Solutions is combining innovative technology and interdisciplinary collaboration to address accessibility issues.
In 2013, Albert Manero was studying for his master’s in mechanical engineering at the University of Central Florida (UCF) when he heard a radio interview that changed everything.
He was stuck in traffic on the way home and happened to tune in to a conversation with the man who created the first 3D-printed prosthetic hand – paving a new path to accessibility technology for the more than half a million people in the United States with an upper-arm limb difference (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
Manero was blown away at this application of engineering and how it could be used to create positive change.
“As a graduate student at UCF, I always felt like we had the freedom to explore big ideas and turn dreams into reality.”Albert Manero, Limbitless Solutions Executive Director
“After hearing that radio interview, it was hard not to be moved. A group of classmates and I quickly got together to brainstorm ways we could support the growing efforts and add our own spin on creating a similar tool of empowerment and, from there, we never really looked back,” he said.
Within a year, Limbitless Solutions – a nonprofit and direct support organization at UCF dedicated to increasing accessibility for children, veterans and first responders with limb differences through personalized, expressive bionics – was born. The organization focuses on “engineering hope” and firmly believes that no individual or family should be financially burdened because of a limb difference. The entire team – from multidisciplinary UCF student interns to leadership – is dedicated to changing the stigma around individuals in what they refer to as their “bionic family.”
One way that Limbitless is doing this is through the design of their bionic arms. Through non-invasive electromyography (EMG) sensors and advanced manufacturing, Limbitless creates a prosthesis that is lighter and less expensive than traditionally available prosthetics, and at no cost to the user. Typically, prosthetics are neutral in color and designed to blend in with the user’s skin. At Limbitless, bionics are colorful, expressive and created to stand out.
“We delivered our first bionic arm to a 6-year-old boy, and it reflected the more traditional look many of us are familiar with when we think of prosthetics,” shared Manero. “When we saw him again a few weeks later, he wanted to paint his prosthetic bright orange, which was his favorite color.”
“We thought people would just want to blend in and that they wanted to feel ‘normal,’ but we learned that it is much more about personal identity and expression.”Albert Manero, Limbitless Solutions Executive Director
In addition to its muscle-based biosensing bionic arm, Limbitless has also leveraged EMG technology to develop a hands-free wheelchair control device, known as Project Xavier, and an interactive, training-style video games that allow members of their bionic family to familiarize themselves with the technology that powers their prosthetic. Each of these projects, unique in their own right, share a common goal: empower confidence in the lives of individuals through cutting-edge accessibility technology.
Limbitless’ unique blend of art and engineering has thrived in Orlando, and the company has benefited greatly from the region’s deep supply of resources, proximity to higher education institutions, access to talent and a community of willing collaborators. Their work has caught the attention of major companies like Adobe, Stratasys, Autodesk and Microsoft’s 343 Industries, with each committing to support the Limbitless mission.
In just seven years, Limbitless has grown from a small group of UCF researchers working out of the College of Engineering and Computer Science building to a globally recognized leader in accessibility technology. Limbitless team members have spoken at the United Nations four times since 2018 and the company recently moved in to its own, newly renovated 6,500 square foot facility in Central Florida’s Research Park.
“Orlando and UCF have always been our home,” Manero said. “Our staff consists of UCF alumni, UCF-affiliated faculty members and an average of 30 UCF undergraduate interns from various academic perspectives each semester.”
“As a nonprofit, philanthropy is the energy powering our program and our success wouldn’t be possible without the support of the university, as well as so many dedicated partners that help make Limbitless’ mission a reality.”Albert Manero, Limbitless Solutions Executive Director
One of those partners is Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital. In August, the local health care giant and Limbitless Solutions announced they are teaming up to launch a national study to evaluate the effectiveness of video game-based training, aimed at helping children learn how to use prosthetic arms. The study will include up to 20 children from around the country, with an emphasis on recruiting in Central Florida, and is open to children ages 7-17 of all genders.
“This partnership is particularly special to us since Orlando Health is our hometown hospital,” Manero said.
“The fact that we can host a study of this magnitude, with such respected experts, speaks volumes to the power of our community here in Central Florida.”Albert Manero, Limbitless Solutions Executive Director
Limbitless Solutions’ work proves that creating technology for all can make a true difference. And, both in Orlando and beyond, Limbitless is doing its part by leveraging the power of art and engineering to make the world a more inclusive place, one step at a time.