A mind-controlled prosthetic leg was put to the test this weekend by a man who used it to climb 103 flights of stairs to the top of Chicago's Willis Tower, one of the world's tallest skyscrapers.
Zac Vawter, 31, is a software engineer who lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident three years ago. On Sunday, Vawter strapped on a bionic "smart limb" designed by the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and participated in an annual stair-climbing event called “Skyrise Chicago."
“Everything went great,” Vawter told the Washington Post after the event. “The prosthetic leg did its part, and I did my part.”
The neural-controlled prosthetic leg, which weighs about 10 pounds, is driven by Vawter's thoughts. When he pushes on the device to stand up, it reads his intent and triggers built-in motors, belts and chains to push back on him, propelling him up.
“With my standard prosthesis, I have to take every step with my good foot first and sort of lift or drag the prosthetic leg up," Vawter explained in a statement. "With the bionic leg, it’s simple, I take stairs like I used to, and can even take two at a time.”
Rehabilitation Institute said it focused on lower limb prosthetics because leg amputees outnumber people who have lost arms and hands.
“We were testing the leg under extreme conditions," Rehabilitation Institute CEO Joanne Smith told the Washington Post. "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."
Despite the successful demonstration, the institute says it will be several years before the bionic leg will be available on the market.