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The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) and Northwestern University (NWU) have developed the first bionic thought-controlled leg. It took four years for the team... The First Thought-Controlled Bionic Leg

The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) and Northwestern University (NWU) have developed the first bionic thought-controlled leg. It took four years for the team to complete the project and cost $8 million.

You may not realise it but thought-controlled limbs are not a new thing. Bionic arms and hands controlled by thoughts have been around for some time, however this is not the case for amputees who have lost part or all of a leg. For the first time they will be able to ditch the old fashioned prostheses for the latest model.

Bionic Leg

The project was funded by the U.S Army’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center, who supplied a grant. There are 1,200 recent servicemen and veterans who are amputees as a result of the war in Iraq or Afghanistan. These will be testing the new bionic limbs, with the aim of launching them into the consumer market in 2018.

“We are pleased to partner with the RIC Center for Bionic Medicine in the development of user intent controlled bionic limbs.  We appreciate the opportunity to sponsor this life-changing effort to provide military amputees with as much physical functionality as possible, as soon as possible,” said Col. John Scherer, director of the Clinical and Rehabilitative Medicine Program at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command.

Describing the bionic leg, Professor Levi Hargrove PhD said:  “This new bionic leg features incredibly intelligent engineering.  It learns and performs activities unprecedented for any leg amputee, including seamless transitions between sitting, walking, ascending and descending stairs and ramps and repositioning the leg while seated.”

The bionic limb takes signals from the patient’s nerves, as well as sensors like accelerometers and level sensors. All of this is essential for it to be able to carry out complex actions.

To be able to tap into the patient’s nerves, minor surgery is carried out to redirect nerves from the site of the amputaion, to healthy tissue in the upper leg. These redirected nerves are then monitored by electrodes which feed into the leg.

Zac Vawter, an amputee, was able to trial the bionic leg after undergoing the necessary surgery. He explains how the new artificial limb is a big improvement by saying, “The bionic leg is a big improvement compared to my regular prosthetic leg.  The bionic leg responds quickly and more appropriately, allowing me to interact with my environment in a way that is similar to how I moved before my amputation. For the first time since my injury, the bionic leg allows me to seamlessly walk up and down stairs and even reposition the prosthetic by thinking about the movement I want to perform. This is a huge milestone for me and for all leg amputees.”

The possibilities for this new technology are promising, even benefitting able-bodied people, with the potential of helping the elderly with reduced mobility.

The New England Journal of Medicine, a prestigious peer-reviewed medical journal, has published a paper on the new thought-controlled bionic limb.

[Image via Huffington Post]