Seven students graduating from the University of Central Florida this week say their college experience would not have been complete without the time spent at Limbitless Solutions.
The students from the College of Engineering and Computer Science, College of Sciences, and the College of Arts and Humanities, all interned at Limbitless Solutions, a UCF-based engineering innovation company that makes bionic arms for children.
Two of the graduates spent 11 semesters with Limbitless Solutions — the entirety of their careers at UCF. Others spent anywhere from a single semester to five working there. They all say the same thing: Limbitless Solutions changed their lives and have prepared them for the work world.
Rishi Basdeo, who is earning mechanical engineering and biomedical science dual degrees, enrolled at UCF because of Limbitless Solutions. He heard members of the group present at his school and knew that this is how he wanted to make an impact in the world — using his love of engineering to help people with healthcare needs.
“They told me to get good grades, come to school, and find them,” Basdeo says. “And here I am.”
Basdeo joined the group his first semester of his freshman year and since then has been involved in all things Limbitless including contributing to innovations of the bionic arm design, delivering bionic arms to children, speaking at public events to share the LS mission and even meeting Bill Gates when he visited in May 2018.
“Limbitless taught me two really important skills: how to work and communicate with a truly interdisciplinary steam working toward the same goal,” says Basdeo who was named an Astronaut Scholar. “Very rarely do you have the chance to create and grow a design over such a long period of time in a classroom or traditional internship setting, and that is one of the most special things about Limbitless.”
The company, which three then UCF students created in 2014, started out with one goal — create a bionic limb to help a local child who was missing his arm. It has grown into a company that has more than 30 students learning and working at its lab on the main campus.
It has developed new bionic arms for children that are in clinical trials. The company is now working with various groups to develop adult arms and other technology aimed at helping veterans and first responders. During the pandemic Limbitless pivoted and created materials to help healthcare providers stay safe. Throughout it all, the company involves students at a fundamental level.
“Helping students learn to solve problems and work together has been part of our core mission”, says CEO and co-founder Albert Manero ’12 ’14MS ’16PhD.
Manero, who has three degrees from UCF, is providing commencement remarks at Thursday ceremony. He’s looking forward to seeing many of the Limbitless Solutions interns walk across the stage.
“It’s an honor to be speaking to this group of graduates,” Manero says. “In our lab, this group of seniors has been an amazing one to work with. I cannot wait to see how they will use their skills and compassion to change the world. They embrace working together to solve problems. We need more of that.”
For Zach Whitacre, who is getting his degree in mechanical engineering, the experience of fixing broken fingers and speaking to potential industry partners throughout his 11 semesters with Limbitless Solutions, has prepared him for the work world.
“I always wanted to be an engineer, and Limbitless gave me the direction that I wanted to work in medical technology,” Whitacre says. “As far as product design goes, it’s really given me a toolbox of skills that’s prepared me for all types of jobs in design manufacturing and prototyping.”
Whitacre was recently named a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program honorable mention.
Jessica Moore is earning her degree in emerging media this week. She spent four semesters with Limbitless Solutions where she learned about branding, designing and editing graphics, and even helping with a mobile app design.
“I think the best part was knowing that not only I was gaining experience with my skills, but also that everything I was doing was directly supporting our bionic kids and families,” Moore says. “I also loved picturing the kids as empowered through the designs I created.”
Moore’s impact will live on thanks to her work on Limbitless Solutions branding materials and merchandise that is sells online to support the organization’s work.
Christian Orellana, who majored in digital media, worked quickly to program a full video game that will serve as the training game for Project Xavier, similar to the bionic arm’s gamified training but for individuals who use wheelchairs. This project was awarded the Pabst Steinmetz Foundation Wellness Innovation Award, with associate professors Matt Dombrowski ’05 ’08MFA and Peter Smith ’05MS ’13PhD. With a minor in computer science and a specialization in game programming, Orellana has structured multiple rendering projects within the design of the video game. After graduation he hopes to get a job as a game designer. He credits Limbitless Solutions with giving him a focus on inclusive design.
“I understood what standard accessibility options were, but I didn’t understand why they existed,” he says. “Now I understand that having [inclusive design] gives you a broader audience and allows your game to feel like it’s not just catering to a specific audience.”
Designing a game for a wheelchair user adds layers most game design undergraduates never encounter, and Orellana hopes to apply that necessary inclusive design mentality in future projects.
Emily Hoang, who also majored in digital media, only discovered Limbitless Solution this past semester. She sketched different bionic arm designs and then modeled it in a 3D software program to get the designs closer to a prototype. After graduation she plans to use the modeling and design skills she has learned to create 3D-printed wheelchairs for tortoises with leg injuries.
Ahad Bawany was originally a physics major but found his true passion in his major of computer science. Bawany developed the code behind the apps and websites used by Limbitless’ bionic kids.
“Limbitless made me realize that I don’t have to work on a video streaming service or a shopping service,” Bawany says. “Those things are great, but I can also use my software skills to help people in a more direct way I feel more comfortable with. Limbitless helped me understand that my passion lies in working for a nonprofit or a lab or a company that is focused in the medicine sector or something that’s trying to make a direct impact on people.”
Angela Rothfuss, who joined Limbitless Solution during Summer 2019, has completed her mechanical engineering degree. She worked using advanced manufacturing tools in the lab including an injection molding machine to create bionic arm components. By injecting a bust of a component with hot plastic and letting it harden, new bionic arm pieces can be created quickly and easily, without the post-production hassle of 3D-printed parts. Through Limbitless, Rothfuss gained a considerable amount of industry-level work experience.
“There are plenty of places where often you’ll come in and just sit at a computer, but here I’ve learned how to work on so many different machines and how to use them,” she says. “I’ll be able to take that knowledge somewhere else and apply it immediately.”
Rothfuss hopes to continue on her engineering path, specializing in rehabilitation engineering or prosthetics.