Man climbs Chicago skyscraper using bionic leg
CHICAGO — The metal on Zac Vawter bionic leg gleamed as he climbed 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.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Rossi: Rutherford shines as old boss pouts
- Crane tips over, smashes into roof of building at Pitt
- ‘Boyz of Zummer’ Wiz Khalifa, Fall-Out Boy light it up at First Niagara
- LaBar: What’s killing professional wrestling
- Former Jeannette coach held for trial on charges of assault on teen girls
- Liriano, Pirates complete sweep of Tigers
- Lower Burrell couple charged with 6 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty
- Young Nebraska girl’s organs give 2 Pittsburgh-area boys a chance to live
- Hurricanes owner rips Rutherford, Penguins
- Penguins’ Kessel ‘thrilled’ with chance to play with Crosby, Malkin
- Death toll from capsized Philippine ferry rises to 50