Zac Vawter is the proud owner of the world’s first mind-controlled bionic leg — a prosthetic limb that he can control and move smoothly simply by will.
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Vawter, who is 32 years old, lost the lower portion of his leg during a motorcycle accident nearly five years ago. NBC reports that the thought-controlled prosthetic leg scientists at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) developed for him is the first of its kind.
According to NBC, only thought-controlled bionic arms have existed as an option for amputees in the past.
RIC biomedical engineer and scientist Levi Hargrove, who helped lead work on the project, remarked that Vawter’s bionic leg is “a groundbreaking development.”
The bionic leg allows users to “seamlessly transition between walking along level ground and going up and down stairs and slopes,” Hargrove noted.
Electrodes in the leg respond to signals from Vawter’s hamstring muscle, where the scientists at RIC redirected the nerves that had previously gone through his lower leg before it was amputated.
Hargrove pointed out that this means Vawter’s hamstring muscles contract whenever he merely thinks about moving his leg, created a nearly natural physical response.
Because the bionic leg is still a prototype, Vawter cannot yet take it home, NBC reports.
Scientists at the RIC have not yet determined how much these bionic legs will cost, but they estimate that early versions will be available to amputees within three to five years.
Check out the video of Vawter with his bionic leg above (via NBC).