The World’s First Bionic Leg


SC Contributing Writer

It looks like something straight out of science fiction—a man uses a robotic leg to walk up and down a flight of stairs with all the fluidity and finesse of its flesh-and-blood counterpart.

In a video released on the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago website (, you can see for yourself the world’s first thought-controlled prosthetic leg in action.

Using an onboard computer connected to sensors, the prosthesis translates electrical impulses from redirected nerves above the site of amputation into commands, which can then be carried out to produce a variety of natural motions.

Thought-controlled prostheses are nothing new. Prosthetic arms that respond to signals directly from the subject’s brain have been used with monkeys and even humans in clinical trials where quadriplegics gained the ability to manipulate objects with a robotic hand simply by thinking about it.

Developing a thought-controlled prosthetic leg proved to be an even greater challenge, for any miscalculation by the machine could cause the subject to lose balance and fall.

This development was made possible by an $8 million dollar grant from the US Army’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center to help normalize the lives of the 1,200 recently wounded soldiers who suffer from leg amputations and the lives of the other leg amputees.

The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago expects this type of prosthesis will be available to the general public in about five years. The researchers have kept cost in mind when developing this technology, using low-cost materials wherever possible to keep the expected price tag low. The price of a bionic arm is currently in the area of $20,000 to $120,000.

This groundbreaking prosthetic, after years of development, was revealed to the world in the September 26, 2013, issue of The New England Journal of Medicine and was covered by many major media outlets.

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