When Vawter goes home to Yelm, Wash., where he lives with his wife and two children, the experimental leg will stay behind in Chicago. Researchers will continue to refine its steering. Taking it to the market is still years away.
"We've come a long way, but we have a long way to go," said lead researcher Levi Hargrove of the institute's Center for Bionic Medicine. "We need to make rock solid devices, more than a research prototype."
The $8 million project is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense and involves Vanderbilt University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Rhode Island and the University of New Brunswick.
"A lot of people say that losing a leg is like losing a loved one," said Vawter. "You go through a grieving process. You establish a new normal in your life and move on. Today was a big event. It's just neat to be a part of the research and be a part of RIC."
Nearly, 3,000 climbers participated in the annual charity event. Participants climbed about 2,100 steps to the Willis Tower's SkyDeck level to raise money for the institute's rehabilitation care and research.