A 32-year-old man whose knee and lower leg were amputated in 2009 after a motorcycle accident is apparently the first person with a missing lower limb to control a robotic leg with his mind. A team led by biomedical engineer Levi Hargrove at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago in Illinois reported the breakthrough last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, including a video that shows the man using the bionic leg to walk up stairs and down a ramp, and to kick a football.

The major advance is that the man does not have to use a remote-control switch or exaggerated muscle movements to tell the robotic leg to switch between types of movements, and he does not have to reposition the leg with his hands when seated, Hargrove says.

“To our knowledge, this is the first time that neural signals have been used to control both a motorized knee and ankle prosthesis,” he says.