Wounded Veteran Turns Injury into Innovation

May 20, 2013

A UTSA engineering and business student team has received the $100,000 prize in the Student Technology Venture Competition for its work on a device to help amputees.

The team developed a cooling device for prosthetics – and a way to market the product.

Before Gary Walters graduated with a bachelors degree in engineering Monday, he and his teammates had already started a company to market the device he designed for his engineering team’s Capstone project. 

"I was cutting my grass last summer and trying to think of a project to do and I thought, 'You know, this heat build-up in the prosthetics is an issue for everybody,'" Walters said.

Walters was wounded in Iraq in 2005 and lost his right leg about six inches below the knee.

"What they make prosthetics out of doesn’t release heat," Walters said. "Heat can’t get through it so as your body heat builds up in there, it gets really hot. You start to sweat a lot and then the sweat can’t go anywhere. On a good August day in San Antonio, I can build up an inch of sweat in the bottom of my prosthetic.”

Walters invented a cooling device with a small fan that blows cool air onto the layers of prosthetic materials, cooling the skin where it touches the prosthetic and ending the heat problem.

"It’s a fan out of a computer, so it sounds like a computer fan," Walters said. "As that gets cold, it pulls the heat away from your body through that rubber, and then the fans pull that out."

Anita Leffel, assistant director of UTSA’s Center for Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship, said business students were assigned to choose engineering projects for which they would write business plans and market the product.

"It’s even more gratifying to be able to not only solve a problem and come up with a business, but also be helping others," Leffel said. She said her students all wanted to partner with the prosthetic cooler team.

"The engineers make a short presentation, and the business students will do a quick evaluation on whether or not that’s a product that could be commercialized. And the students were fighting over this product," Leffel said.

Ten students teams competed for the prize of cash and in-kind services. Walters and his seven teammates in engineering and business have already opened a company called Leto Solutions and expect to start making money on the product in three years. And they have their second and third product lines blueprinted as well.

"Right now this is adapted for a below-the-knee amputation. Our next product line would be for above-the-knee and then in the future for upper extremities," Walters said.