Man with bionic leg to climb Willis Tower stairs

November 2, 2012 4:19:42 PM PDT
Zac Vawter is ready to make history.

He considers himself a test pilot and he is about to try a climb to the top of the Willis Tower with an extraordinary, bionic leg.

A Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago participant who lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident three years ago, the Seattle resident will climb 103 floors of the Willis Tower on Sunday at the 4th annual Skyrise event using the first bionic leg a neural-controlled prosthetic leg driven by his own thoughts.

"It is a dramatic improvement over my normal prosthetic," Vawter said. "I feel great it's awesome research to be involved and I am excited to be involved in the fundraiser for RIC and climb the tower."

The one-of-a-kind prosthetic leg has a powered knee and ankle. What makes it bionic is that it interacts with him. When Vawter pushes on the device to stand up, the device reads his intent and pushes back on him propelling him up.

The hardware is amazing," he said. "It is something exciting and fun and I hope we push the boundaries of the research and contribute to RIC and the work they are doing."

"No one has ever used the neural signals for leg control and this is really advanced," said Levi Hargrove, research scientist at Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. "It is amazing if you watch a person without a leg like this they typically drag it up the stairs. Zac can go step-over-step, it is just amazing hardware."

The computer program on the screen is used to monitor Zac and the bionic leg.

"We record all the data on a computer and teach the small microcomputer what it looks like," Hargrove said. "So when he wants to walk or take stairs it will respond automatically to his demands and signals."


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