A nonprofit based and founded at the University of Central Florida, Limbitless Solutions develops personalized prosthetics, bionic limbs, and mobility devices for children and adults, free of charge. The company collaborates with experts from a variety of fields who share a vision of applying leading-edge research and development to the needs of people with physical challenges — an example of “translational innovation.”
For as long as he can remember, Limbitless Solutions’ President Albert Manero, PhD wanted to be an aerospace engineer. It’s why he earned three degrees from UCF’s highly-regarded College of Engineering & Computer Science. Manero had big dreams to make an impact on the world and beyond.
But while Manero was studying for his Ph.D., he received an email from a couple he’d never met. Their dream very quickly became Manero’s dream, too. It would inspire him to merge his passion for technology with an equally passionate group of UCF students and faculty.
The email had come from the parents of a 6-year-old boy named Alex, who was born with a partially developed right arm. They had tried the standard process of securing a prosthetic for Alex and had run into the standard obstacles — prosthetics that are too heavy, too difficult to use, and far too expensive. The parents found Manero’s name on a website highlighting his team wanting to make technology more adaptable and more accessible for real-world needs. It was just what Alex’s parents were looking for: someone willing to challenge the status quo.
Their team had everything he needed right there on the UCF campus. Engineering students and researchers to develop the biomechanics of an arm. The College of Medicine to guide the clinical application, compliance and quality of care. A group from School of Visual Arts & Design to create custom-designed arms for each child and a video-game training system.
They even had access to the 3D printers they’d use to manufacture the arm. “I heard the words ‘this is crazy’ quite frequently,” says Manero. “But the objective to do something different in order to fill a real need motivated us.” It took just eight weeks before Alex had his first prototype, at no cost to his family.
Four years later, Limbitless Solutions is anchored where it started: in the heart of the UCF campus. The university adopted Limbitless as a direct support organization in a partnership.
“I can’t imagine a better place for what we do,” says Manero. “The university provides an infrastructure of research, space, staff, and a connection to entrepreneurial minds.”
Thousands of families from around the world have reached out to Limbitless since they developed Alex’s arm. New projects include a wheelchair that’s controlled using temporal muscles by clenching the jaw.
“Empathy is one of our guides,” says Manero. “Because of the expertise and technology drivers in the Orlando area, we can make a big difference.” Their upcoming clinical trials will bring the newest version of their bionic arms to 20 children around the country — representing the first clinical trial in the USA to do so.
This isn’t the kind of impact the group of college students had in mind when they worked toward their engineering degrees. It’s far greater. And, as it is in space, there’s no limit to what might be next.