On 12 June 2014, at Arena Corinthians in São Paulo, a paraplegic Brazilian will walk to the centre of the pitch and kick a football during the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2014.
This miraculous feat will be made possible by a mind-controlled robotic exoskeleton. Hundreds of millions will tune in as the technology makes its first public debut prior to the first match between Brazil and Croatia.
The lightweight alloys and hydraulics that make up the robotic suit are controlled by a cap fitted with electrodes that pick up the wearer’s brainwaves. The signals are then sent to a computer, which is worn in a backpack, these are then decoded and used to tell the suit how to move. It is powered by a battery, also carried in the backpack, which allows for two hours of continuous use.
The operator’s feet rest on plates which have sensors to detect when contact is made with the ground. With each footfall, a signal is sent to a vibrating device that is attached to the forearm of the operator’s shirt. This device fools the brain into thinking that the sensation came from their foot.
The suit has been through numerous safety tests. It is fitted with multiple gyroscopes to stop it falling over whilst walking and, as an extra safety measure, it is also fitted with multiple airbags.
The mind-controlled exoskeleton which will be demonstrated at the FIFA World Cup 2014.
The technology is the result of years of dedication and hard work carried out by an international consortium of scientists and engineers on the Walk Again Project. The robotics work was coordinated by Gordon Cheng at the Technical University in Munich and French researchers built the exoskeleton.
Miguel Nicolelis, a neuroengineer based at Duke University in North Carolina, led a team that focused on ways to read people’s brain waves and use those signals to control robotic limbs. The team has launched a Facebook page, which documents the project in the lead up to the World Cup.
Nicolelis has trained nine paraplegic men and woman, aged between 20 and 40, to operate the exoskeleton, three of whom will attend the opening ceremony and one will take to the pitch to perform the demonstration.
This is a big step towards making wheelchairs a thing of the past and it is a great opportunity to demonstrate to the world how far technology has progressed in recent years.