Limbitless Solutions, the UCF-based nonprofit and UCF direct support organization that creates bionic limbs for children, celebrated the eighth anniversary this month. The program has seen impressive growth in the past year, beginning with a move into a new facility in July 2021. The additional space enabled record participation by UCF undergraduate students in internships and research work, while also providing a new home for visits from bionic families.
“What started as a dream at a kitchen table has become so much bigger than we ever imagined,” says Albert Manero ’12 ’14MS ’16PhD, UCF alum and co-founder of Limbitless Solutions. “We are thrilled to celebrate our eighth anniversary of the program and to watch both the program and our bionic kids grow up. The past year at Limbitless Solutions has seen our impact grow to new heights as we strengthen the program to scale our impact.”
Limbitless Solutions began with the mission of increasing accessibility and empowering children and adults in the limb difference community. The first bionic arm delivery occurred on July 23, 2014. Through personalized, creative, and expressive bionics — provided without financial burden — the team empowers using innovative technology and interdisciplinary collaboration to address accessibility issues. Limbitless develops muscle-based biosensing technology including multi-gesture bionic arms, a hands-free wheelchair control device and interactive video-game training.
The new facility is located adjacent to the main campus in the Central Florida Research Park and is accessible for UCF students through the UCF shuttle. The renovation for Limbitless Solutions was made possible by philanthropy and sponsorship funds which allowed for the growth of the student program from 29 in Summer 2021 to 49 in Summer 2022. This growth is in preparation for scaling the excellence and impact of the bionic arm program.
Orlando Health Arnold Palmer pediatric orthopedic surgeon Mark Birnbaum will serve as the principal investigator for the 14-month trial. The study will evaluate the effectiveness of video game-based training for helping children learn how to use prosthetic arms. This is the first Florida-based study for Limbitless and will build on the partnership that began in 2018 with researchers at Oregon Health & Science University on a clinical trial that is wrapping up this fall.
With Wolfson Children’s hospital in Jacksonville, Florida and Nemours Children’s Health Jacksonville, Limbitless will conduct an innovative clinical trial that will examine how children’s brains respond to learning to use the prosthetic through using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to review nerve pathways. The four-month study is slated to open this fall. It uniquely leverages video-game-based training — led by UCF faculty members Matt Dombrowski ’05 ’08MFA with UCF’s School of Visual Arts and Design and Peter Smith ’05MS ’12PhD with UCF’s Nicholson School of Communication and Media — that converts muscle flexing into the video game character’s actions.
The Power of Collaboration
The new facility unlocked even more interdisciplinary opportunities — with the program now representing students from six colleges plus faculty from across the university. The Summer 2022 semester welcomed 48 students in the program — the largest class in Limbitless’ history. With faculty from the College of Arts and Humanities’ School of Visual Arts and Design, and the College of Sciences’ Department of Games and Interactive Media, Limbitless has continued to develop new video games to help children prepare their muscles while learning to control their Limbitless designed prosthetics.
Faculty and students worked with one of the bionic kids to develop a comic book based on the bionic kids’ stories. The Bionic Kid comic book has raised over $12,000 to support future bionic kids’ participation in the program — bolstered by support from two Hollywood actors and multiple Fortune 500 companies. The importance of inclusive representation of disabilities in media aligns with the mission and provides inspiration to the Limbitless Solutions team. Bionic Kid comic illustrator and SVAD Associate Professors Victor Davila ’97 ’07MFA and Dombrowski along with the Limbitless student creative team brought the hero’s story to life while delivering the message that heroes come in all shapes and sizes.
Limbitless continues to make a local and global impact. Engineering student Madison Adams recently spoke with delegates from the United Nations (U.N.) about inequalities in sports at the second “Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue on the Role of Sport in Addressing Inequalities in Times of Crisis and Recovery,” a discussion hosted virtually by the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Division for Inclusive Social Development.
In Central Florida, the Limbitless facility hosted several K-12 education opportunities, including a special visit from girl scout troop 1521. Scouts from grade two to grade eight completed a special project to simulate our bionic arms. Limbitless aims to inspire the next generation of innovators through more K-12 events in the coming year.
The program looks forward to another year of growth and to welcome patients from the new clinical trials. The impact of Limbitless Solutions is not done alone and would not be possible without the support from the community, corporate partners, staff, participating students and faculty.
While Limbitless continues to help families, industry leaders are recognizing the organization’s innovative power. The Orlando Business Journal awarded 25 local companies with the newspaper’s inaugural Inno Fire Awards. The awards recognized companies for their innovation, growth and impact in the Central Florida region. Top winners were named 2022 Blazers and awarded red blazers. Limbitless Solutions took the Top Blazer award in the Established Players category (businesses in operation eight to 10 years).
Limbitless Solutions also was a finalist for the Florida Sterling Manufacturing Business Excellence Award, which recognizes the state’s best manufacturers based on a rigorous assessment process led by industry experts. A panel rated more than 160 nominees in the areas of leadership, strategy, customer service, measurements, analysis and knowledge management, workforce, and operations. The 23 finalists are considered models for the state. Limbitless Solutions was one of two Orlando-based finalists.
About Limbitless Solutions
Limbitless Solutions is a nonprofit and direct support organization at UCF dedicated to increasing accessibility and empowering children and adults in the limb difference community. Through personalized, creative and expressive bionics, provided without financial burden, the team aims to empower using innovative technology and interdisciplinary collaboration to address accessibility issues. Limbitless develops muscle-based biosensing technology including multi-gesture bionic arms, a hands-free wheelchair control device and interactive video game training. Limbitless combines engineering and art to promote access and engagement in STEAM learning experiences for a more inclusive future. Undergraduate students from various academic perspectives engage in project-based learning, professional development, and research experiences where students put academics into practice in an environment focused on making a difference, as well as professional and technical development.