The video below shows an incredible feat: a man walking up a flight of stairs with a robotic leg as easily as a man with two human legs. The man in the video is Zac Vawter, and he lost his leg in a motorcycle accident. But with his new leg, he can move around with little difficulty, because his robotic leg is attached to healthy nerves that run directly to his brain. The limb is entirely controlled by thought, and has a range of motion that is comparable to that of a human leg. This new technology is made possible by a collaboration between Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, designers at Vanderbilt University and Freedom Innovations, a prosthetics company based in Irvine, California. The end result is a substitute leg that is both lightweight and able to provide its wearer with a fuller life experience--no more dragging around a stiff piece of plastic. Zac's new leg allows him to tackle everyday tasks like climbing stairs, but thanks to the ability of rotating his "ankle" he can traverse sloped terrain, making more ambitious goals such as hiking possible.
Many amputees have to cope with the harsh reality of a diminished lifestyle, because most prosthetics are not up to the task of supporting a wide range of activities. But that may soon come to an end, especially for those with missing legs. The technology for creating nerual-controlled arms has existed for a while, but creating the same experience for leg amputees has been a bit trickier. The good news is that there may be a model available for clinical testing in two to three years, which in the prosthetics and clinical world, is no time at all. Within the next half decade, people like Zac can have a quality of life that equals that of non-amputees (Wired).