Man With Thought-Controlled Bionic Limb Ascends Skyscraper

An $8 million project funded by the U.S. Department of Defense with contributions from Vanderbilt University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Rhode Island, and the University of New Brunswick have allowed for a man who lost his leg to climb 103 stories of a skyscraper in Chicago. This would be a feat for anyone who had lost a limb, but Zac Vawter wasn’t just using a prosthetic leg – he was controlling it with his mind.

Vawter said that “everything went great. The prosthetic leg did its part, and I did my part.” The leg responds to electrical impulses from muscles in his hamstring. When Vawter thinks about climbing stairs, the motors, belts, and chains in his leg synchronize movements with its ankles and knee. There are two motors in the device that weighs about 10 pounds.

Bionic limbs have been available for a few years and the technology is clearly improving evidenced by this success story. Prosthetic arms have been available for a few years, but a transition is now being made to be able to support those who have lost lower limbs as well.

This particular test was set up to be an extreme circumstance. Few patients will likely be using a bionic limb for an act like this any time soon, but it is great news that Vawter’s climb was successful. Lead researcher Levi Hardgrove said, “We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go.” We may have a ways to go, but it is incredible to see how far we have come.