Amputee uses thought-controlled bionic leg to climb to the top of the Willis Tower...
A man who lost his leg in a motorbike accident has made history by climbing the stairs of one of the world’s tallest skyscrapers. Zak Vawter, made is his way up 103 flights of stairs to the top of he Willis Tower in Chicago using a bionic leg controlled by his mind.
The robotic prosthesis works by decoding electrical impulses from the muscles in his hamstring. The impluses then trigger motors, belts and chains to mimic the movement of the human knee and ankle.
Using the neural-controlled bionic leg the 31-year-old reached the top of the tower in under one hour, without any breaks.
Vawter completed the climb as part of a charity event called “SkyRise Chicago” hosted by the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Vawter said he wanted to give something back to the Rehabilitation Institue, where he is receiving treatment:
‘One of the reasons I wanted to do this was because I was so thankful for everything the RIC have done for me – I wanted to pay them back…
‘Before the accident I loved to run and afterwards I didn’t think I would ever be able to be so active again.
In 2009 before the bionic prosthetic was fully developed, Vawker underwent surgery to amputate his leg and reposition the nerves that would usually carry signals to the lower leg. This surgery, know as ‘targeted muscle reinnervation’, would allow Zac to one day be able to use a bionic leg. And after several more years of development, the prototype was ready for trails.
To prepare for the climb, Vawker and the scientists spent hours adjusting the leg’s movements. After calibrating the prosthetic, he was able to walk around the room, climb stairs and kick a football.
Although researchers from the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) are happy with the success of the climb,they noted that the technology is still a few years away from being marketable.
The main concern over throught controlled legs is safety. If a bionic arm fails the results would likely be as harmless as dropping an object, but if a bionic leg were to fail when walking up or down stairs, the subsequent fall could be fatal.
The $8m project is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense and involves Vanderbilt University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Rhode Island and the University of New Brunswick.