Canadian Engineer to Help Man Think His Way up a Skyscraper

This Sunday, a Seattle man is will attempt to climb a Chicago’s Willis Tower skyscraper using a bionic leg.

As if that wouldn’t be hard enough, he will be using a new technology that enables him to control it with his mind.

In 2009, Zac Vawter lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident. Three years later, Zac is an integral part of a project to develop intuitive prosthetics. The lead engineer on this project is Dr. Levi Hargrove, a biomedical engineer at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. He was born in Bath, New Brunswick, and educated at the University of New Brunswick.  In fact, UNB is helping out the US state department with the science—and the $8 million price tag.

While still years from clinical trials, this prosthetic leg is innovative to say the least. Measuring nerve impulses from Vawter’s hamstring, the motorized leg will synchronize the ankle and knee. “He’s thinking about walking or he’s thinking about going up the stairs, and then he naturally goes up the stairs,” Hargrove told Sun News, adding, “I’ll try to keep up with him.”

Prosthetics have remained largely the same for centuries, though materials have improved. Thought-controlled prostheses are a huge step in the right direction (pardon the pun). In fact, DARPA is manufacturing a robotic arm that could be in use within the same time frame.

The robotic leg is still bulky, and the battery will need to be changed halfway up the tower, but technology is constantly putting more and more into smaller packages. Prosthetics that more accurately mimic real limbs will go a long way to rehabilitating amputees and wounded veteran.