The 2014 World Cup will celebrate not only an international sports event, but also the chance for a paralyzed teenager to overcome obstacles and make his mark on the globe. Initiating the biggest soccer match in the world, the chosen teen, whose lower body is paralyzed, will walk out and make the first kick, thanks to a mind-controlled high-tech "exoskeleton."
The Washington Post reports that the feat will be possible thanks to the Walk Again Project, part of DiVE at Duke University, which researches and develops new technology to interface between humans and the digital world. The project involves an international consortium that has worked together to create an electronic body suit, powered by electric sensors that detect mental pulses. When the teen thinks about walking, a small computer, worn like a backpack, receives those signals and translates them into movement.
According to DiVE's website, "the candidate teenage kicker will be trained in Virtual Reality to control technology that will eventually allow them to kick the ball at the world cup. They will do this by wearing a non-invasive headpiece that detects brain waves."
Miguel Nicolelis, the Brazilian neuroscientist at Duke who is leading the Walk Again Project's efforts, told WP, "We want to galvanize people's imaginations. With enough political will and investment, we could make wheelchairs obsolete."
An animated demonstration on CBS News shows how brain signals trigger the paralyzed teen to get up from his wheelchair, and take the steps necessary to kick the ball.
Nicolelis has been working on similar robotics for decades, beginning with a mind-controlled arm, which enabled a man with a rare degenerative disorder to play an arcade game after only one day's practice.
The scientist figures the World Cup will be the perfect spot to debut his new technology, as he's from Brazil and knows the global significance of "football."
"The World Cup is the world's largest sports competition, the ultimate sharing opportunity," Nicolelis told CBS. "We proposed to the government that instead of a regular musical or typical opening ceremony that has been done in the past, we could surprise the world by doing a scientific demonstration instead."
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