CHICAGO (AP) – The metal on Zac Vawter’s bionic leg gleamed as he climbed the 103 floors of Chicago’s iconic Willis Tower, becoming the first person ever to complete the task wearing a mind-controlled prosthetic limb.
Vawter, who lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident, put the smart limb on public display for the first time during an annual stair-climbing charity event called “SkyRise Chicago” hosted by the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where he is receiving treatment.
“Everything went great,” said Vawter at the event’s end. “The prosthetic leg did its part, and I did my part.”
The leg is designed to respond to electrical impulses from muscles in his hamstring. When Vawter thought about climbing the stairs, the motors, belts and chains in his leg synchronized the movements of its ankle and knee.
The computerized prosthetic limb, like something from a sci-fi film, weighs about 10 pounds and holds two motors.
Bionic _ or thought-controlled _ prosthetic arms have been available for a few years, thanks to pioneering work done at the Rehabilitation Institute. Knowing leg amputees outnumber people who have lost arms and hands, the Chicago researchers are focusing more on lower limbs. If a bionic hand fails, a person drops a glass of water. If a bionic leg fails, a person falls down stairs.
This event was a research project for us, said Joanne Smith, the Rehabilitation Institute’s CEO.
“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,” Smith added.
To prepare for his pioneering climb, Vawter said, he practiced on a small escalator at a gym, while researchers spent months adjusting the technical aspects of the leg to ensure that it would respond to his thoughts.
When Vawter goes home to Yelm, Wash., where he lives with his wife and two children, the experimental leg will stay behind in Chicago. Researchers will continue to refine its steering. Taking it to the market is still years away.
“We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go,” said lead researcher Levi Hargrove of the institute’s Center for Bionic Medicine. “We need to make rock solid devices, more than a research prototype.”
The $8 million 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.
“A lot of people say that losing a leg is like losing a loved one,” said Vawter. “You go through a grieving process. You establish a new normal in your life and move on. Today was a big event. It’s just neat to be a part of the research and be a part of RIC.”
Nearly, 3,000 climbers participated in the annual charity event. Participants climbed about 2,100 steps to the Willis Tower’s SkyDeck level to raise money for the institute’s rehabilitation care and research.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
- 7 common ways to get sued by your employees
- Why it might be time to upgrade your toilet
- Arizona teachers are building a better future by using technology in the classroom
- How to make summer reading fun for the whole family
- How to find relief for chronic joint pain
- Can the NBA Lottery save the Suns?
- Skip Urgent Care: 5 ailments you can treat with telemedicine
- Skin Cancer in Arizona: Stats, facts and new immunotherapy drugs making strides
- Distracted walking injuries end up not so funny
- Scary situations: 5 quick tips before you let a contractor in your home
- Four ways telemedicine is changing the health care industry
- 5 mistakes homeowners make in the spring
- Three rivers run through it: Exploring Arizona's waterways
- Smart home basics: things you need to know to get started
- 5 Surprising things causing back pain
- Arizona agriculture is a $17.1B industry
- Timeline: Arizona's roots in brewing history
- 5 reasons to love the D-backs this season
- Tips for taking your home entertainment experience to the backyard
- Tech-related injuries your parents never experienced
- Workers comp: Signs your co-worker could be a fraud
- Who's the real founder of America's pastime?
- Epidemic rising? What you need to know about Alzheimer's in Arizona
- 5 unforgettable Wooden Award winners
- Family and hard work are keys to success of modern dairy farmers
- Genetic testing could hold answers for colon cancer survival
- Cold beers and baseball: A beer lover's guide to Spring Training
- Telecommuting: 5 tips to make it work for employers and employees
- See how top CFOs feel about economic growth in the Valley
- Migraine myths that keep patients from effective treatments