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First Neurally Controlled, Powered Prosthetic Limb Is 2,109 Steps Closer To Realization

IRVINE, Calif., Nov. 7, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Freedom Innovations, LLC, a leading developer of high technology prosthetic medical devices, announced today that research participant Zac Vawter utilized the world's first neurally controlled, powered prosthetic limb to climb 103 floors (2,109 steps) of Chicago's Willis Tower at the SkyRise Chicago fundraiser. In this most grueling test of the technology to date, Vawter demonstrated that this advanced research is quickly on its way to becoming available to lower-limb amputees worldwide.

(Photo: )

Originally developed at Vanderbilt University, the Powered Knee & Ankle System's neural controls are the result of research from the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC). Prosthetic developer Freedom Innovations is on track to commercialize the first phase of the technology, the Powered Knee & Ankle System in early 2015. Further development of the neural-controlled system is underway, as it represents the next step required to fully restore lower-limb amputees' complete biological function.

The computerized prosthetic limb Vawter used in the climb incorporates two significant advancements in prosthetic technology. First, as the only system to feature fully-powered knee and ankle prosthetic joints, the prosthetic limb is no longer passive. Motors in the system replace muscle function lost from an amputation. This facilitates power-driven ambulation that also allows an amputee to actively climb stairs and slopes. Second, Vawter benefited from neural control of this powered system where his thoughts helped to direct the software and action of the prosthetic limb via targeted muscle reinnervation (TMR).  

TMR is a surgical procedure pioneered at RIC. Brain signals from nerves severed during amputation are rerouted to intact muscles, allowing patients to control their robotic prosthetic devices by merely thinking about the action that they want to perform.

Vawter, 31, who lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident three years ago, put the technology on public display for the first time during the annual stair-climbing charity event hosted by RIC. He completed the 103-story climb in just over 52 minutes.

"One of the biggest differences for me is being able to take stairs step-over-step like everyone else," said Vawter. "With my standard prosthesis, I have to take every step with my good foot first and sort of lift or drag the prosthetic leg up. With the bionic leg, it's simple, I take stairs like I used to, and can even take two at a time." 

As has been illustrated by this historical climb, it is a convergence of technologies and research collaboration between multiple organizations that is driving this groundbreaking technology forward. Freedom Innovations is working aggressively towards commercialization, so amputees worldwide can benefit from increased prosthetic functionality including improved agility, balance, and fall prevention. This improved level of safety will not only reduce the potential for injury and costly hospital admissions, it is expected to greatly improve the quality of life for those living with limb loss.

About Freedom Innovations
Freedom Innovations, LLC designs, manufactures, and markets advanced technology lower extremity prosthetic devices that provide people with physical challenges the ability to reach their full potential. Based in Irvine, CA, Freedom's lower extremity prosthetics are distributed around the world. For more information, visit

About The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago
Founded in 1954, RIC has been designated the "#1 Rehabilitation Hospital in America" by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1991. RIC sets the standard of care in the post-acute market through its innovative applied research and discovery programs, particularly in the areas of neuroscience, bionic medicine, musculoskeletal medicine and technology transfer. For more information, go to

About the Center for Intelligent Mechatronics, Vanderbilt University
The Center focuses on the design and control of electromechanical devices, with particular emphasis on the intersection of design and control. Much of its work is human-centered, including current research in anthropomorphic robotic upper and lower extremity prostheses; dynamic approaches to the control of robot biped locomotion; and the use of biologically derived coordination for the control of legged locomotion in multi-legged robots. Founded in 1873, Vanderbilt University comprises 10 schools, a distinguished medical center and The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center. Ranked as one of the nation's top universities, Vanderbilt offers undergraduate programs in the liberal arts and sciences, engineering, music, education and human development, and a full range of graduate and professional degrees.

SOURCE Freedom Innovations

About PR Newswire
Copyright © 2007 PR Newswire. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of PRNewswire content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of PRNewswire. PRNewswire shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

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