Since 2001 over 1,200 Americans have lost one or both legs in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, creating a lifetime’s worth of medical issues for the wounded victims. For these veterans, their lives will never return to what they once were before traumatic injury.
However researchers at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) have helped bring to life technology that could restore some semblance of normalcy for war veterans: a bionic leg that can read and respond to brain signals.
A ground breaking innovation in the world of prosthetics, this bionic leg uses pattern recognition and an algorithm to move at the user’s command. The device contains electrodes and a computer to read and process brain signals and turn them into actions. The bionic leg closely replicates human movement, unlike most prosthetics that are simple support systems that must be controlled manually. Users will be able to perform basic functions such as standing from a sitting position and walking, as well as more complex actions such as rotating an ankle or walking up sloped terrains.
The bionic leg has been a wonder thus far to Zac Vawter. Zac lost one of his legs four years ago in a motorcycle accident and is currently helping the team at RIC test out the device. Zac’s greatest accomplishment thus far is walking up 2,000 steps to reach the top of the Willis Tower in Chicago, a feat that would have been much more difficult without the bionic leg.
Dr. Levi Hargrove, one of the lead researchers on the project is excited to see the difference the leg will make in the live of amputees such as Zac. Said Hargrove,
When we said to Zac, “You’re in control, you can do whatever you want,” that was kind of a surreal moment…It was an overwhelming feeling for me—and I think for him as well that this has the potential to help a lot of people.
The bionic leg still needs some polishing before it will be available for sale to the general public. One issue is that the leg is still heavier than desired, weighing in at 10.2 pounds; the team hopes to get it under 10. Secondly the error rate, or the number of times a user scuffs his or her feet while walking, must be reduced as well.
The team hopes to have the bionic leg available for clinical trials within 3-5 years.