On Sunday, amputee Zac Vawter climbed 103 stories of the Willis Tower, the tallest building in the Western hemisphere, using a prosthetic limb he controlled with his thoughts.
Many prosthetics work using myoelectric devices, where the limb, such as this bionic hand, moves in response to muscle contractions. But since each muscle contraction can control only one motion, the range of motions is limited. To get more nuanced control of prosthetic limbs, the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, which sponsored the indoor climb-a-thon Vawter took part in and outfitted him with the leg, is working on developing thought-controlled prosthetics. To make the leg work, nerves from Vawter’s hamstring were wired to the prosthetic, which was designed by Michael Goldfarb at Vanderbilt University.