By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer
It’s easy to take our arms and legs for granted, but a 32-year-old man named Zac Vawter certainly doesn’t – he lost his leg below the knee in a motorcycling accident 4 years ago. While missing body parts can be replaced by prosthetics (medical devices that imitate our limbs) they never quite have the same level of control that the real ones offer. That may be so, but the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) Center for Bionic Medicine has reduced the difference by creating a mind-controlled bionic leg. In fact, Vawter is the very first patient to ever use it.
A mind-controlled, “natural” bionic leg, huh? What, so all Vawter has to think is, “leg, move!” and he’ll walk? Sort of. Say someone wants to move their foot. There’s a signal sent from the brain all the way to the bottom of the leg, which then causes the body part to move. However, when if that limb is missing, the signal never reaches its destination. The mind-controlled bionic leg from the RIC is able to detect this signal and move based on how Vawter wants it to.
It wasn’t just a matter of strapping on the device like a boot, though. The RIC researchers needed to attach it surgically to line up the signal pathways and after the operation, the prosthetic worked like a charm. It’s capable of performing a bunch of movements, like going up and down the stairs, sitting, and walking.
At first, however, it didn’t know exactly what he wanted, so the leg incorrectly interpreted his mind about 13% of the time. But, the bionic leg was able to learn from its mistakes, and the error rate dropped all the way down to about 2%!
The RIC researchers plan to make the leg smaller, quieter, and less prone to mistakes in the future, which will certainly ease the lives of prosthetic limb users.
Images courtesy of AbilityRIC on YouTube.