History will be made today at in Brazil as a paralyzed teenager kicks out the first ball of the FIFA World Cup. The kicker, whose identity has not yet been revealed, will be doing it thanks to a robotic exoskeleton, developed by Walk Again Project is an international collaboration of more than 100 scientists, led by Prof. Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University and the International Institute for Neurosciences of Natal, Brazil.

Eight Brazilian patients, paralyzed from the waist down, have been training for months to use the exoskeleton. The system works by detecting electrical activity in the patient’s brain and translating that into action, such as standing, walking, or kicking a soccer ball.

It also gives the patient tactile feedback using CellulARSkin, a sensitive artificial skin created by Gordon Cheng, head of the Institute for Cognitive Systems at the Technische Universität München(TUM). The modular feedback system uses a microprocessor and sensors to detect things like pressure, vibration, temperature, movement in three-dimensional space, and even pre-touch proximity, which is a sense unaugmented humans don’t have.

The CellulARSkin is integrated with the exoskeleton so that the wearer can feel what the exoskeleton is doing on the parts of their bodies where their sense of touch still works. It takes practice to use a system where so much information is being transplanted to other parts of the body. Until today, nobody knew who was going to be kicking out the first FIFA World Cup ball.

The inset video is narrated by Miguel Nikolelis of Duke University. In it, he describes the journey from concept to realization of a mind-operated exoskeleton. If only Christopher Reeve had lived long enough to see this. Or wear it.

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SCIFI Radio Staff
SCIFI Radio Staff

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