World Cup to begin with mind-controlled kick from paralyzed teen
Scientists are working on a mind-controlled exoskeleton to allow a paraplegic teenager to kick off the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. (Source: Walk Again Project / Duke immersive Virtual Environment)
Published Saturday, January 4, 2014 6:33PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, January 4, 2014 6:38PM EST
The first ceremonial kick of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil might not be delivered by a superstar soccer player. Instead, more than 100 scientists are working on the world's most advanced mind-controlled exoskeleton to allow a teenager, paralyzed from the waist down, to get things underway.
The exoskeleton, made of motorized metal braces, will support and bend the kicker's legs by using brain signals to trigger movement in the suit.
Miguel Nicolelis, the Brazilian neuroscientist at Duke University leading the Walk Again Project's efforts to create the robotic suit, said his research will restore movement to people who have suffered from neuromotor diseases and brain lesions.
“Our ambition is for wheelchairs to become museum pieces,” he said in a summer news release.
The project -- now an international collaboration among five universities around the world -- began at Duke University's Nicolelis Lab, where scientists tested hair-thin sensors that had been implanted into the brains of rats and monkeys.
The tests demonstrated that electrical activity in the animals' brains could be decoded into commands to move mechanical devices: in this case, an exoskeleton.
“Experience with interconnecting brain and machine suggests that the brain incorporates the apparatus as if it were a body part, just as tennis players feel their racket as an extension of their arm,” Nicolelis said.
Before trying on the real suit, the candidate paraplegic kicker will be trained by wearing a virtual exoskeleton made of a non-invasive headpiece that detects brain signals.
The 20th FIFA World Cup is scheduled to take place from June 12 to July 13.