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MIT Professor, Amputee Makes World's First Bionic Lower Leg System

CAMBRIDGE (CBS) -- Watching Dr. Hugh Herr walk through the offices of iWalk, the Cambridge company he founded, is unremarkable. Which is precisely why it is so remarkable.

"I lost my biological legs in 1982 in a mountain climbing accident," said Herr. "And was given what was conventional technology at the time and was not a happy camper."

Herr's life's mission was born, and pursued with a mountain climber's focus. There was education and research at MIT and Harvard. Years studying the way the lower leg and ankle work.

The result is the Powerfoot BiOM, billed as the world's first bionic lower leg system. It's a combination of microprocessors, sensors, motors and springs mimics the actions of the ankle, Achilles tendon and calf muscle.

WBZ-TV's Peg Rusconi reports.

Herr, who's a professor at MIT, rolled up both pant legs to reveal two of the battery operated devices. Unlike previous lower leg prosthetics, it doesn't drain energy from the user, and adapts to changes in terrain.

"We can deliver same human like energies and allow people to walk across all speeds normally, energetically."

With servicemen and women losing limbs to conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the federal government has had reason to invest in research like this.

Said iWalk CEO Tim McCarthy, "We were very lucky to be recipients of early VA and DOD grant money to further iterate the product development."

McCarthy said iWalk's clinical trials at military facilities have been favorable. The company's website features testimonials from military amputees.

Herr says he is moved by the stories. "We've had men walking with their wives on hikes for the first time. It's very profound. It feels very good to finally be there, and deeply affecting people's lives.

The BiOM device is in early market release to the Department of Defense, the Veterans Health Administration, and some other facilities.

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