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Paralyzed Teen Will Make Opening Kick at 2014 World Cup Using Mind-Controlled Walking Device

A robotic exoskeleton controlled by thoughts can enable a paralyzed person to walk again.



This week FIFA and non-profit Walk Again announced a new technology designed to allow people with paralysis to walk with the assistance of a robotic exoskeleton controlled by brainwaves. This state-of -the-art exoskeleton will make its debut at the 2014 World Cup Soccer Tournament in Brazil this summer. During the opening ceremonies, a teenaged paraplegic will make the first kick to start the tournament  using this device. 


The exoskeleton will provide support to the lower body, and will use wireless electrodes attached to the head to collect brainwaves to signal the suit to move, enabling the paralyzed wearer to walk.


The robotic bodysuit is a collaboration between the Duke University Center for Neuroengineering, the Technical University of Munich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, the Edmond and Lily Safra International Institute of Neuroscience of Natal in Brazil, The University of California, Davis, The University of Kentucky, and Regis Kopper of the Duke Immersive Virtual Environment (DiVe). 


"Our ambition is for the wheelchair to become museum pieces, " said Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, the Brazillian Neuroscientist who heads the project Andar de Novo (Walk Again), in a media briefing.  Nicolelis described how the brain interacts with the technology:

“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."


The kicker, chosen from a group of 10 paralplegic teenagers, will maneuver the suit's motorized leg brace to straighten and bend the kicker's leg. Since paraplegics have no feeling in their legs, the suit employs specialized lower body sensors that send vibrations to the upper body, simulating the sense of moving along the ground, according to The volunteer and an alternate will be chosen in the next few months and then begin final training with the suit. The selection will be made based on body size and the ability to control the suit.



What You Can Do

  • Support the ongoing research of the Walk Again Project through Duke University, where Dr. Miguel Nicolelis is based.
  • Find resources in your area if you know someone who is paralyzed and in need of assistance. (care of the Reeve Foundation).