Three years ago, it was nothing more than a school project and proof of concept — the second-place winner at a university showcase contest — but it grabbed headlines as far away as the United Kingdom.
For their senior project at UTSA, Ryan Saavedra and three classmates had built a robotic prosthetic hand for less than $700, a fraction of what many prosthetics like it on the market cost. Their 3D-printed model, offering artificial intelligence-enhanced bionic prosthetics at an affordable price, dangled the prospect of upheaval in a multibillion-dollar industry. Reporters asked Saavedra, what’s next?
“I had absolutely no idea,” he said, recalling the experience this week. “I was an undergrad with no prior experience of building a company or commercializing a medical device.” In fact, he had no plans to do so.
Today Alt-Bionics, the startup Saavedra founded, is on a steady path to carry his concept to market. It’s in talks to begin its first small-scale clinical trials, and the venture has gathered attention from local investor groups and business observers far beyond San Antonio’s tight-knit robotics scene. Manufacturers from Poland and clinicians in South Africa say they want to work with Alt-Bionics.
After a successful first round of funding last year, a second round is underway, intended in part to help the startup produce its first commercially available prosthetics.
The flurry of early media coverage did little to motivate Saavedra to take his concept beyond a school project, he said. But those news segments reached a friend, who asked if her cousin, an Army Ranger with multiple amputations from a tour in Afghanistan, could try out the model his team had created. Saavedra agreed, and the veteran quickly programmed the hand to make a rude gesture. Saavedra said the man was thrilled.