Paralyzed Brazilian teen with exoskeleton will do World Cup 2014 inaugural kick


World Cup 2014

The exoskeleton, named the Walk Again Project, was developed by the Duke University Center for Neuroengineering, while the helmet to control it was developed by Colorado State University.
(Photo : Ulrich Peters)

The inaugural kick for the FIFA 2014 World Cup, set to begin next month in Brazil, will be made by a paralyzed, non-ambulatory teenager wearing an exoskeleton.

The exoskeleton and accompanying 3D-printed helmet, developed by an international team of engineers and designers, will allow the teenager to stand up and make the inaugural kick. 

The exoskeleton is named the Walk Again Project, and is developed by the Duke University Center for Neuroengineering, supported by the Technical University of Munich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, the Edmond and Lily Safra International Institute of Neuroscience, the University of California Davis, the University of Kentucky and Regis Kopper of the Duke Immersive Virtual Environment. 

On the other hand, the helmet, which will control the exoskeleton through sending neural signals from the user’s brain, was developed by a team from Colorado State University. The mind control helmet was created using 3D-printing technology, and it has a soft structure which will keep in place the controlling electrodes despite the movement of the exoskeleton. 

The Walk Again Project was first announced in January, when it was revealed that the exoskeleton will provide support to a paralyzed person’s lower body. The user will be able to walk through controlling the exoskeleton using wireless electrodes attached to the head, which will gather the user’s brain waves.

“The vibrations can replicate the sensation of touching the ground, rolling off the toe and kicking off again,” said Gordon Cheng, lead robotic engineer of the Technical University of Munich in an interview with New Scientist.

“There’s so much detail in this, it’s phenomenal.” 

The opening ceremonies for the World Cup will be the first large-scale demonstration of a robotic exoskeleton being controlled by a human. The teenager will be immersed in a virtual reality environment as training to use the exoskeleton and helmet to make sure that they are accustomed to using the device by next month.

The World Cup will hold 64 matches between 32 teams, and the available three million tickets are almost sold out. The event will last for a month and will begin in the middle of June, with an expected 600,000 tourists entering the country to watch the tournament.

While Brazil is a football-loving country, Brazilians have questioned having to pay for the costs of holding the event, which include building constructions, stadium renovations, infrastructure upgrades and additional security, when there are other priorities within the country such as hospitals and schools.

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