Jasper Chat

by Leah Cordova, Staff Writer

River Castelonia:

3D Printing Prosthetics for Veterans

NY / Junior / Mechanical Engineering

Photo by Leah Cordova
Photo by Leah Cordova

River Castelonia is an undergraduate mechanical engineering major currently working on some exciting things. When I first spoke with him about 3D printing, our conversation surrounded a small, 4oz, plastic iPhone case. This was in 2014. Since then, River saved up to buy his own 3D printer (a Lulzbot) and has continued to move forward. Our most recent chat involved 3D printing in a new light. River, along with a team of 30 engineers, is onto something groundbreaking: Havenlabs, a non-profit organization with a mission to help disabled veterans within the New York area.

3D printing has been significant in multiple realms. What inspired you to use it for prosthetics?

A couple things. So, for me, growing up and knowing my grandfather plays into it. He’s in the VA and will be coming up here [to school] in a couple of weeks. Also, being an engineer, I feel like solving problems is what we do. Overall it is personal for me. I come from really humble beginnings and have always felt that if I could help someone in any way at all, I will.

How did ‘Havenlabs’ come about?

Well the name, Haven, is like safe-haven. I don’t know, my middle name is Haven and I feel like it is for a reason. I guess I found it symbolic. But before everything, I approached my friend Brian Sopok, co-founder, who has a background in computer science. He lives in Albany, I live upstate, so we met in Poughkeepsie in a coffee shop near Vassar. I don’t think he understood what I wanted to do, but we sat for like five or six hours and hashed everything out. I wanted to get our ideas online and that’s exactly what we did. From that point, it was straightforward.

What were the first couple steps for getting people on board?

The networking resources at this school are everywhere. The first stage was going to an ASME meeting. I passed out a sheet and described the project a little. It just started brewing from there and students as well as alumni have reached out to join. We’re at 30 people now. Recently, we contacted Formlabs, a 3D printing company that got big from Kickstarter. They emailed me back and support our ideas. We’re actually going to buy a printer from them at a discounted price.

What is Havenlab’s current status? 

We just met with a lawyer and we’re officiating things. We’ve got our teams: engineering, finance and web/app development. And within engineering we’ve got people working on specifics: the fingers, the palm and (my team) the gauntlet. We will start building an app at the beginning of next month and our website will be live in January. I guess we’re in our design phase right now. Our long term goal is to design legs and stuff, but for right now, it’s mock-ups. We have to fundraise a lot and that will begin in the next couple of weeks, I’d say in early November.

What are you looking forward to next?

One of the biggest things coming up is this conference and expo at the Javits Center. We will be there! It’s funny because I went last year as a student, just a viewer, and am coming back a year later as a presenter. This expo is huge and will spread the word even more.

Compared to other companies and organizations that are 3D printing, what do you think makes Havenlabs special?

We are using 3D scanners to physically get a shape of the limb, so that it essentially fits like a glove. Once we get a solid hand prototype, we’re planning for a local veteran to wear it and let us know how it fits. We’re also looking at our product’s durability and testing how much it can sustain. We’re considering a lot of detail before we start building them for people that need them. Other than that, we’re doing this to help people. And some don’t get that – it’s not about money. As engineers, and I know the whole team knows this, we’re dedicated to problem solving. This is something we want to be a part of.

Do you have any words of advice for others who want to be a part of something?

Welcome failure. I think you have to fail as soon as possible to meet useful experiences and your next endeavor. Discouragement is tough, people will doubt, but sometimes it takes a maverick to make something happen.