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Paraplegic to Kickoff the World Cup in a Robo-suit [Video]

Jun 12, 2014 03:54 PM EDT
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In about two hours, the first World Cup soccer match will begin, and who will be doing the kickoff? A man who had no control over his paralyzed lower body - until now.

In an international display of just how far assisted-living technologies have come, a paraplegic man will kick off the World Cup match between Brazil and Croatia at 4 p.m. EST today.

A team led by Duke University's Miguel Nicolelis will equip this anonymous first kicker with a state-of-the-art exoskeleton for the lower body that interprets signals from the user's brain to control his seemingly useless legs.

These legs then send signals back through the user's arms in the form of vibrations, according to the National Science Foundation. With a little practice, a user's brain can supposedly associate the vibrations with the action of taking steps - creating a more natural "feel" for robotically assisted walking.

"Doing a demonstration in a stadium is something very much outside our routine in robotics. It's never been done before," Nicoleis told the Agence France-Presse (AFP).

According to the AFP, the Brazilian researcher looked excited but also very exhausted on Monday, as his team made final preparations for today's historic kick.

Nicoleis explained that back in 2009, when Brazil first learned it was hosting the World Cup, officials in charge of the opening asked notable native Brazilians what they could do to set themselves apart from other host countries.

"That's when I suggested doing a scientific demonstration to teach people that Brazil is investing and has human potential to do things beyond [soccer]," the scientist explained.

And this is very different in a lot of ways. Unlike other works searching for a solution to paralysis, the Duke researcher did not publish the study's results in any peer-reviewed journals. Instead, he has turned to mass media and the ultimate goal of showing the world his success at the World Cup.

According to BBC News, it actually is not certain that the paraplegic in question will be doing the literal kickoff, or if Brazil has something even more grand in store for the nearly 66,000 fans who are going to be in the stadium.

"That was the original plan," Nicoleis said. "But not even I could tell you the specifics of how the demonstration will take place."


[Credit: National Science Foundation]

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