After losing his right leg in a motorcycle accident, Zac Vawter signed up to become a research subject. Considering himself a test pilot, the 31-year-old software engineer is currently helping to test a trailblazing prosthetic leg, controlled by his thoughts.
On Sunday, November 4, he will attempt to climb one of the world's tallest skyscrapers, Chicago's Willis Tower, and put this groundbreaking bionic leg to the ultimate test by climbing 103 flights of stairs to the top. With the bionic leg's public debut, he will make history if all goes well.
Through the electrical impulses from muscles in his hamstring, his whirring, robotic leg will respond. The motors, belts and chains in his leg will synchronize the movements of its ankle and knee when Vawter thinks “Climb stairs.”
Vawter hopes to make it to the top in an hour – longer than it would've taken before his amputation but less time than it would take with his normal prosthetic leg, or, as he calls it, his "dumb" leg. While noting the smart leg's performance, a team of researchers will be cheering him on. The experimental leg will stay behind in Chicago when Vawter goes home to Yelm, Wash., where he lives with his wife and two children.
Researchers will continue to refine its steering. Taking it to the market is still years away.
Levi Hargrove, researcher at the Institute's Center for Bionic Medicine, stated that in the public eye, the Willis Tower climb will be the bionic leg's first test. With about 2,700 people climbing, the climb, called "SkyRise Chicago," is a fundraiser for the institute.
In the facility's research, this is the first time the climb has played a role. In order to prepare for the climb, hours have been spent adjusting the leg's movements by Vawter and the scientists. On one recent day, 11 electrodes placed on the skin of Vawter's thigh fed data to the bionic leg's microcomputer.
Edited by Braden Becker