The Ascendance of RIC’s Neural-controlled Bionic Leg
Every year, the Annual Skyrise Chicago event sees people from around the country congregate in the Windy City to climb the 103 floors of the Willis Tower in a friendly, fundraising competition. This year, the event included one particularly special climber, a man named Zac Vawter.
Vawter lost his right leg due to a motorcycle accident in 2009. The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) fitted him with a new breakthrough in technology, a neural-controlled prosthetic leg. Vawter was able to climb all 103 floors of the tower because of the more natural operation of the prosthetic. Its motors respond to his steps to return force applied to walking.
“One of the biggest differences for me is being able to take stairs step-over-step like everyone else,” said Vawter. “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. With the bionic leg, it’s simple, I take stairs like I used to, and can even take two at a time.”
The prosthetic was developed cooperatively between the RIC and multiple universities, thanks to a grant from the Department of Defense Army’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center. The prototype worn by Vawter during the event was designed by Michael Goldfarb at Vanderbilt University.
Read more about bionics in Desktop Engineering’s November commentary by Steve Robbins.
Below you’ll find a video about Vawter’s climb.