Climbing 103 flights of stairs without collapse is a noteworthy achievement for any human being, but when said human only has one leg, it’s nothing short of miraculous. Thirty-one year-old Zac Vawter lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident, but he didn’t let that sidetrack his life. Wearing a bionic leg that’s controlled by electrical impulses from his brain, Vawter recently climbed 103 floors of Chicago’s iconic Willis Tower, becoming the first person ever to complete the task wearing a mind-controlled prosthetic limb.

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The amazing feat was part of an annual stair-climbing charity event called “SkyRise Chicago” hosted by the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where Vawter receives treatment. Can’t wrap your brain around a mind-controlled prosthesis? Here’s how it works: The leg is designed to respond to electrical impulses from muscles in his hamstring. When Vawter thought about climbing the stairs, the motors, belts and chains in his leg synchronized the movements of its ankle and knee, and the thought became action.

According to the Rehabilitation Institute, leg amputees outnumber those who’ve lost arms and hands, so in recent years, researchers have moved their focus to bionic lower limbs. They see the annual fundraising event as a chance to not only raise awareness about bionic technology, but also to put the leg through some rigorous real world testing. “We were testing the leg under extreme conditions,”  said Joanne Smith, the Rehabilitation Institute’s CEO. “Very few patients who will use the leg in the future will be using it for this purpose. From that perspective, its performance was beyond measure.”

Even though both Vawter and the bionic leg exceeded all expectations, experts say we’re still years away from seeing mind-controlled prostheses on the open market.

+ Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

Via NY Daily News