Albert Manero didn’t want to alarm his team building prosthetic limbs at Limbitless Solutions.
He had just learned in a phone call that world-renowned health tech advocates and billionaires Bill and Melinda Gates planned to visit the company’s Orlando headquarters as part of their visit to University of Central Florida.
But instead of letting his team know, Manero sat on the information. Until, that is, they were near.
“Oh, by the way guys, Bill and Melinda Gates are on their way,” he recalls telling his team about a half hour prior to the 2018 visit.
“There was a lot of shock there,” he said. “It was really incredible.”
The visit represents one of many highlights the company has had since it delivered its first prosthetic arm to a child eight years ago.
A series of wins in Orlando
There was the time they worked with Robert Downey Jr. to deliver an Iron Man-themed arm.
Of course, the company developed video games that help children get used to their new prosthetic limbs. UCF faculty members, Matt Dombrowski with the School of Visual Arts and Design and Peter Smith with the Nicholson School of Communication and Media lead this work for the team.
And Limbitless Solutions has also won a number of awards in both the manufacturing and healthcare industries.
However, the UCF graduate from the Tampa area says while those have been fun, it is still all about delivery day and helping another child.
“The best moment is after they’ve taken the arm home, the parent emails back and says everything is working a week later,” he said. “That’s when I can breathe sigh of relief.”
As Limbitless grows, it continues to build its innovation.
The latest design involves new ways to control a wheelchair using electronics that respond to facial gestures. The idea is to give people a more independent experience for patients who cannot use a joystick.
The research has been in partnership with Mayo Clinic, having recently completed and published their pilot study findings with Dr. Bjorn Oskarsson.
“It’s a way to support quality of life and personal dignity,” Manero said.
Limbitless Solutions launched in 2014 when it delivered a prosthetic arm to then 6-year-old Groveland kid Alex Pring.
Months later, Hollywood’s “Iron Man” Downey Jr. delivered a movie-themed arm to Pring, calling Pring “the most dapper 7-year-old I’ve ever met.”
The publicity helped jumpstart Limbitless Solutions.
However, while the public sees the finished product, Manero stresses that this kind of effort requires a strong team.
Designers need to give the arms a more expressive aesthetic.
Programmers need to make sure they function.
App developers must make sure to provide seamless experiences with the prosthetic limbs.
“The world’s biggest problems are just too large to solve by yourself,” he said. “It’s just impossible. You need those different perspectives and skillsets.”
That’s why Manero has a team of nearly 50 students along side five full-time employees that work on the arms in the company’s new 5,000-square-foot headquarters at UCF’s Research Park.
Manero said they treated Alex Pring like a celebrity even before Iron Man became involved.
“We try to elevate that same sense of care and purpose for everyone who walks through the door,” he said.
Looking to the future of prosthetic limbs
Limbitless Solutions continues to conduct clinical trials to keep improving the product.
A one-year Oregon Health and Science University study was extended three years because of coronavirus-related delays, It will soon conclude.
Another two were recently approved, including one with Orlando Health.
As they land more studies, the team continues to grow, too.
Just days before their surprise visit, members of the Limbitless team had been working on new updates for their now patented wheelchair project. Little did they know, the Gates would be some of the first people to see the new changes in action. Luckily, things went smoothly.
“I was very nervous for like two or three seconds,” Manero, 32, said with a laugh.
This whole company “has been an incredibly wonderful thing to be a part of,” he added. “I’m so grateful for that.”