Inspired by the near gravity-defying balance of mountain goats, Kai Lin set out to help people — and change the life of one adaptive rock climber. His goal: design the perfect prosthetic foot for mountain climbing, one that would let amputees reach new heights on the wall.
Lin grew up in the industrial city of Fuzhou, China, drawing his days away in his bedroom, sketching pictures into the wee hours of the night. But eventually, at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, Lin shifted from illustration to industrial design. “I wanted to move beyond drawing for self-expression,” Lin says. “I wanted to work on projects that solve a very specific real-world problem, to help people.”
In his third year of studies, Lin stumbled across a video of mountain goats climbing a seemingly vertical rock face. Fascinated by how the goats’ hooves kept them balanced, Lin started designing a mountain-goat-inspired prosthetic foot, called Klippa, the Swedish word for a cliff.
In 2014, Lin’s Klippa was a finalist for the James Dyson Award. In a round of media appearances, he was introduced to Craig DeMartino who had lost his leg in a climbing accident. He was the person Klippa was designed for.
But, Lin needed more funds to build a working prototype and after graduation, was caught up in the throes of a busy day job. That’s when Arc’teryx stepped in to help, offering Lin the use of a 3D printer.
With that, Lin took to the design table, perfecting his prototype Klippa and DeMartino prepared to test it at Indian Creek, Utah. This was Lin’s favorite part of the process, it was the moment of truth when all of his work would meet the reality of the rocks. Lin told Demartino, “There might be a chance when you try out my design that it could fall off, or break.”
Right before the test climb with the Klippa, DeMartino tested another prosthetic in Mexico. “It completely blew apart. It was totally shredded. It broke in so many ways I just never saw coming. It made me realize: I don’t know that much about design,” said DeMartino. Then, just a few weeks later, he met Lin at Indian Creek to see if the Klippa would meet the same fate, or if his dream of climbing a fine finger crack again would come true. You can read the whole story and more about Arc’teryx Problem Solvers below.