This is definitely from the future: a guy, using the power of his mind, literally, to control a bionic leg and climb a skyscraper in Chicago — all 103 floors, if you can believe it.
Meet Zac Vawter, the 31-year-old man making history with an $8 million, 9-pound aluminum robotic leg attached at his right thigh, just above the knee. He lost that part of his leg in a motorcycle accident in 2009.
Yes, that’s really him kicking a soccer ball in the video above. There’s no wireless remote control mechanism involved, no person behind the curtain with a joystick nudging the controls.
Climbing 103 stories on an artificial leg would itself sound impressive enough, but we’re starting to see artificial legs everywhere these days. Take Oscar Pistorious during this summer’s Olympics. The guy — a double-amputee below the knees — ran on a pair of carbon fiber prostheses (they look like stubby skis). Pistorious was the first double-leg amputee to participate in the Olympic Games, and went on to win gold medals in the men’s 400-meter and 400-meter relay during the Paralympic Games. Pretty incredible stuff.
But what Vawter’s doing seems even more incredible: wielding a thought-controlled prosthesis, the culmination of research involving various universities and the U.S. Army’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center.
Why use a robotic prosthesis in lieu of a simpler, non-robotic one?
“It puts energy in when I’m walking, it puts energy into that,” says Vawter in the video above, “whereas my normal prosthetic is dumb, per say, and doesn’t respond or react to me.”
He’s putting that energy to good use: On Sunday, Vawter participated in SkyRise Chicago, a fundraising event held at the Willis Tower, billed as the “world’s tallest indoor stair climb event,” according to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Climbing with almost 3,000 others, Vawter ascended 103 flights of stairs, all the while monitored by researchers, the idea being that refined versions of this tech could become available to the general public in the next 10 years.