An Artist's Rendering of a Teen Moving from Wheelchair to Exoskeleton to Kicking the Soccer Ball

Paralyzed Teen May Kick Off 2014 World Cup in Unique Exoskeleton

The World Cup is the single biggest event in soccer, and this year the plan is to have a paralyzed teen take center stage in Brazil’s Itaquera stadium to kick off the event in a mind-controlled exoskeleton.

The World Cup Stadium in Itaquera, Brazil

For those who don’t follow the sport, soccer’s World Cup is similar to the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup, or the World Series, but even bigger, because this particular championship is truly worldwide. Countries from all over the world will compete in a tournament to determine who has the best soccer team on the planet. This year, they’re planning something unique to draw attention to the sport.

Which Paralyzed Teen Will Have the Honor of Kicking Off the 2014 World Cup in an Exoskeleton?

On Thursday, June 12 of this year, a paralyzed teen will be chosen from among a group of ten male and female volunteers who are currently training in the use of virtual reality and a specialized exoskeleton to take the spotlight in the opening ceremony. This teen, flanked by members from both competing teams, will take the field clad in this exoskeleton and make the ceremonial first kick.

Close-Up of the Exoskeleton on a Paralyzed Teen's Leg

The exoskeleton itself is part of the Walk Again Project, a nonprofit collaboration between Duke University, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Edmond and Lily Safra International Institute of Neuroscience of Natal, the University of California at Davis, the University of Kentucky, and Regis Kopper from the Duke Immersive Virtual Environment facility.

With representatives from the United States, Germany, Switzerland, and Brazil, these institutes foster an incredible spirit of worldwide cooperation.

The exoskeleton is designed to provide structural support to the wearer’s lower body. By means of electrodes which measure and transmit brainwaves to the computerized device, the exoskeleton moves. The electrodes themselves are implanted in a non-invasive headpiece which, itself, is an evolution in technology that’s been a long time coming.

A Paralyzed Teen Wears the Cap that Operates the Mind-Controlled Exoskeleton

The research began with a series of microwires capable of detecting the tiniest signals from among hundreds of neurons in the area of the brain that are responsible for creating what amounts to a circuit that generates voluntary movements in the body. These wires allow the paralyzed wearer to artificially complete this circuit and transmit the impulses to the exoskeleton, restoring the ability to walk.

Artist's Rendering of a Paralyzed Teen in the Exoskeleton Prepares to Kick Off World Cup

Of the project, Gordon Cheng of the Technical University of Munich says, “The vibrations can replicate the sensation of touching the ground, rolling off the toe, and kicking off again. There’s so much detail in this, it’s phenomenal.”

Sounds like soccer fans—and those who are paralyzed—around the world have something huge to cheer for already!

World Cup Soccer Fans Cheering for the U.S.

Watch the video to see how this exoskeleton works. Do we have any soccer fans out there who’ll be watching this kick-off? Let us know why you’re wild about soccer!


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