Zac Vawter

Amputee climbs Chicago's Willis Tower with bionic leg

An amputee who lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident, has climbed one of the world's tallest skyscrapers by using a bionic leg.

Zac Vawter, a 31-year-old American from Washington, climbed 103 floors of the iconic Willis Tower in Chicago, Illinois in less than an hour with no rest stops. The first person to ever undertake and complete this task, Vawter did it while wearing a mind-controlled prosthetic limb.

Vawter suggested that people often compare losing a limb to the loss of a family member and takes resolve to undergo rehabilitation after the accident: "It's a long process to psychologically overcome that and put that behind you and establish a new normal in your life, and move on."

The “SkyRise Chicago” charity, hosted Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago where he is a patient, was the first time Vawter displayed his bionic, prosthetic limb for stair climbing.

The charity challenge consists of climbing 2,100 steps to the SkyDeck level of the Willis Tower, an icon of the city and American landscape, to raise money for the institute’s rehabilitation care and research. This annual event saw almost 3,000 participants.

Thought-controlled – bionic – prosthesis have been available for a few years under the initiative of the Rehabilitation Institute and their pioneering work.

Weighing about 10 ponds and consisting of two motors, the computerised limb is designed to respond to electrical impulses generated by the muscles in Vawter’s hamstring. The device was active when Vawter thought about climbing the stairs, the motors, belts and chains in his leg synchronised the movements of its ankle and knee.

"It's fantastic hardware. We didn't have any issues with it at all. It carried him up 103 stories," said Levi Hargrove, lead researcher of the institute's Centre for Bionic Medicine.

Vawter practised on a small escalator at a gym to prepare for the pioneering climb, while researchers spent months adjusting the technical aspects of the leg to ensure that it would respond to his thoughts.

The bionic device will remain in Chicago when Vawter goes home to Yelm, Washington, where he lives with his wife and two children.

Researchers are set to refine its steering and taking it to the market is still years away. The 8 million US dollar research is funded by the U.S. Department of Defence,and includes Vanderbilt University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Rhode Island and the University of New Brunswick.

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