Thirty one-year old software engineer Zac Vawter lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident. After losing his leg, he started using a prosthetic leg to walk. The most unusual thing about the prosthetic leg is that it can be controlled through the mind. And, using “the world’s first neural-controlled bionic leg,” Vawter climbed one of the world’s tallest skyscrapers – Chicago’s Willis Tower – on Sunday.
After the motorcycle accident, Zac Vawter had been taking his treatment at Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC). The institute gave him a mind-controlled bionic leg it was testing. The bionic leg weighs about 10 pounds and holds two motors, belts and chains. It is designed to respond to electrical impulses from muscles in wearer’s hamstring. For example if the bionic leg wearer thinks about going somewhere, it sends a signal to wearer’s prosthetic leg that spurs it to move.
This kind of technology has been implemented before in arms and fingers, but never in a leg. Hence, RIC wanted to display it in public, but in a different way. The annual stair-climbing charity event called SkyRise Chicago seemed to be the perfect opportunity.
On November 4, nearly 3,000 climbers, including Zac Vawter, participated in the annual charity event. Zac Vawter, wearing the neural-controlled bionic leg, started to climb Chicago’s 103 storied Willis Tower. The system of bionic legs is awesome. When Vawter thought about climbing the stairs, the motors, belts and chains in his leg synchronized the movements of its ankle and knee. In other word, the electrical impulses converted into control signals that moved his prosthesis.
After reaching the top floor of Willis Tower Vawter said, “Everything went great. The prosthetic leg did its part, and I did my part.”
Joanne Smith, CEO of the Rehabilitation Institute said, “This event was a research project for us. We were testing the leg under extreme conditions. Very few patients who will use the leg in the future will be using it for this purpose. From that perspective, its performance was beyond measure.”
Vawter is the first person who has used the neural-controlled bionic leg for the first time and climbed the top floor of Chicago’s Willis Tower using the mind-controlled robotic leg.