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The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) have published a long-time case study on the world’s first thought operated artificial leg. While there are several different thought operated arm prosthesis being developed in the world, the RIC’s leg is the first of it’s kind. Don’t take our word for it though, and check out the video below.

The case study focuses on RIC research subject Zac Vawter, who has been featured on Neurogadget before, when he climbed to the top of Willis Tower in Chicago to raise awareness of the institute’s research.

Zac is a lower-limb amputee who underwent targeted muscle reinnervation surgery – a procedure developed at RIC and Northwestern University – in 2009 to redirect nerves from damaged muscle in his amputated limb to healthy hamstring muscle above his knee. When the redirected nerves instruct the muscles to contract, sensors on the patient’s leg detect tiny electrical signals from the muscles. A specially-designed computer program analyzes these signals and data from sensors in the robotic leg. It instantaneously decodes the type of movement the patient is trying to perform and then sends those commands to the robotic leg. Using muscle signals, instead of robotic sensors, makes the system safer and more intuitive.

Since Zac climbed the Willis Tower, researchers have been continuing to collect information and interpret usage data from the leg. The prosthetic’s outward appearance has changed little since aforementioned climb, indicating improvements to the system since then (if they exist) are mostly software related.

Of equal importance to the leg’s technical innovations, the case study also reports on prospective clinical applications of the leg. For the millions of people worldwide who have lower-limb amputations this is big news; the report represents a large step towards commercialization and public availability of thought operated prosthesis.