A 29-year-old paraplegic literally kicked off soccer’s World Cup competition in Brazil on Thursday, using a mind-controlled exoskeleton that looks as if it came from the “Iron Man” movies.
The organizers of the international Walk Again Project said the symbolic soccer-ball kick was performed during the World Cup’s opening ceremonies in São Paulo’s Corinthians Arena by Juliano Pinto. He’s an athlete from Galea in Brazil’s São Paulo State who lost the use of his legs after a car accident in 2006.
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Seven other paralyzed patients who volunteered to go through months of training for the task watched from the sidelines.
“We did it!!!!” the project’s leader, Duke University neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis, tweeted.
Nicolelis spearheaded a team of more than 150 scientists to create the exoskeleton — an effort that he says cost the Brazilian government $14 million over the past two years.
Was Pinto’s few seconds of fame worth the cost? Probably not, if we’re just talking about a kickoff that took a couple of seconds to complete. But the project’s researchers said the advances made in the course of the years-long effort — and the exposure given to the next generation of brain-controlled prosthetics — could be priceless.
“The World Cup demonstration is ceremonial, as we have only a moment to show a kick,” Sanjay Joshi, a roboticist from the University of California at Davis who was involved in the Walk Again Project, told NBC News via email from Brazil. “But maybe that kick will inspire a child somewhere in the world to become a doctor, engineer or scientist.”
Joshi said the project’s long-term aim is to bring together neuroscience, engineering and medicine to build brain-controlled devices that can change the lives of paralyzed patients. Nicolelis struck a similar tone in a post-kickoff statement: “It is only the beginning of a future in which people with paralysis will be able to leave the wheelchair and literally walk again.”.. see more