Man climbs skyscraper with bionic leg

Zac Vawter, a 31-year-old software engineer from the Seattle, Wash., area, lost his right leg in a...

Zac Vawter, a 31-year-old software engineer from the Seattle, Wash., area, lost his right leg in a motorcycle crash in 2009.

QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:01 PM ET

An amputee climbed all 103 floors of a famous Chicago skyscraper on Sunday using his bionic, mind-controlled prosthetic leg -- a feat made possible, in part, thanks to the work of a New Brunswick engineer.

Zac Vawter, 31, is a software engineer from the Seattle, Wash., area, who lost his right leg in a motorcycle crash in 2009. He's part of a pilot project involving Canadian and American researchers to develop an intuitive prosthetic that could be used by wounded veterans and other amputees.

The prototype -- researchers are about five years away from clinical trials -- works by measuring electrical signals generated by Vawter's hamstring muscles. A motorized ankle and knee help synchronize the faux limb.

"He's thinking about walking or he's thinking about going up the stairs, and then he naturally goes up the stairs," project leader Levi Hargrove, a specialist in biomedical engineering at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, told QMI Agency. The Bath, N.B., native trained at the University of New Brunswick, which is also helping out with the $8-million U.S. State Department-funded research.

"One of the biggest differences for me is being able to take stairs step-over-step like everyone else," said Vawter in a press release. "With my standard prosthesis, I have to take every step with my good foot first and sort of lift or drag the prosthetic leg up. With the bionic leg, it's simple, I take stairs like I used to, and can even take two at a time."

While this type of technology has existed for a couple of years now, Vawter pushed it to new heights Sunday, testing its ability to carry him 103 floors up Willis Tower for the fundraiser SkyRise Chicago, with proceeds going to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

"There are approximately 600,000 individuals with lower limb amputation in the United States, and we are hopeful that this neural-controlled technology will allow for more ability and more long-term independence," said Hargrove in a statement. "Our integrated team of clinicians, prosthetists and engineers are very excited to have climbed with Zac Sunday."

Vawter -- a former university track-and-field runner -- made the climb in 52 minutes and nine seconds.

-- With files from Kristy Brownlee


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