UCF-linked Limbitless Solutions using AI to help design prosthetics for kids, teens

Annika Emmert is a dreamer. The University of Central Florida first-year student was born with amniotic band syndrome, a condition that kept her right arm from fully developing. 

"Of course, I was a baby, I didn't like the cast, I didn't know what to do," Emmert explained, "I was born right-handed, so everything I had to learn with my left side, with my left arm, which was totally foreign to me. It was not an easy task; my mom said I did everything with my feet!"

As she got older, Emmert dreamed of getting a specially-customized prosthetic arm after she saw one in a magazine. "A little girl got a 3D printed arm that was inspired by the Lakers; it had the purple and yellow on it, and it was so amazing," she recalled. "I told my mom I need one!" 

Emmert's family eventually linked up with Albert Manero and his UCF-based company, Limbitless Solutions, which makes customized prosthetics for children and teens. Limbitless made a gorgeous arm for Emmert, and from then on, she dreamed of working there. 

"My main end-goal from the time I was in fourth grade, I said I am going to UCF, I am going to be with Limbitless, and support them and work for them, and I am!"

Emmert was now an undergraduate research scholar at the company, helping kids just like she used to be, and she wasn’t the only one. The company had more than 50 students working with them. 

"We have students in the healthcare industry, business, social media and communication, game design, animation, art, graphic design. If you can think of a major, Limbitless has probably brought them in," said Limbitless Solutions creative director Matt Dombrowski.

Since founded in 2014, Limbitless has outfitted over fifty of their so-called "Bionic Kids." That included Alex Pring, who got an Iron Man-themed prosthetic arm from Limbitless when he was seven years old in a viral video with actor Robert Downey, Jr.

Dombrowski said their latest innovation was using generative artificial intelligence to help streamline their work. 

"And that includes the ideation or concept process of the arm itself. When our research team is thinking about what the next arm is gonna look like, or what will work and won't work, AI helps speed that up a little bit, so we don't have to go in, 3D model something, paint it, look at it physically and then go 'Oops, we're not using that.'"

The arms cost around $10,000, but co-founder Manero said donations made it possible to provide all their services to these families for free. 

"They provide the funding we're able to use to provide the device, even a travel stipend to be able to come to the facility over the course of that one-year study. That was really important to us that we not leave anyone behind, and only with the support of the community we've been able to do that."

Limbitless only works with Arnold Palmer Hospital to give children and teens these arms as part of clinical trials. Their goal was to get FDA approval so anyone with a prescription could go to Limbitless for the custom bionic arm of their dreams. 

"I want to be a part of everything that they do," Emmert said, "Like I said, I want to be part of everything, and I want to give back everything they've given to me because they've given me a whole new life."