In an emotional and breathtaking start to the FIFA World Cup 2014 festivities in Brazil, the first game was kicked into action by a 29-year-old paraplegic man from São Paulo, Brazil, by the name of Juliano Pinto. The long-time athlete who was injured in an automobile accident in 2006, and with the use of a specially-designed, brain-controlled exoskeleton suit, he was able to walk to the edge of the pitch and kick the official starting soccer ball for the international competition. This amazing medical mechanical marvel gives hope to millions who one day seek to experience re-gained mobility and independence. The internationally-supported Walk Again Project was deeply involved in this special event that cost the Brazilian government two years and $14 million of painstaking work and training for the exoskeleton tech. But if anyone thinks all of the time and effort was only concerned with soccer, then they missed the point and the true vision of the project.
Exoskeleton Controlled by a Person’s Brain — That Just Happened
The exoskeleton suit uses brain waves to control the system and move the battery-powered suit wherever the user chooses. Sensors are placed throughout the nearly full-body device to detect muscle movement, and for Pinto, he wore an electroencephalogram (EEG) cap that used electrode technology to discern electrical signals coming from his skull. This was far less extreme than the original idea that called for placing implants in Pinto’s brain. Once the kick was successfully made, Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, the project’s lead and a Duke University neuroscientist, shouted (through Twitter), “We did it!!!!” He later spoke of the hope that this event brings to researchers, doctors, engineers and paraplegic individuals worldwide. “It is only the beginning of a future in which people with paralysis will be able to leave the wheelchair and literally walk again.” It took a simple tap, and the steadying hands of helpers to keep Pinto on his feet for the world to celebrate, but this event advanced the conversation and put this wonderful technology on full display for the world. Some critics have expressed their concern that there are still major leaps for the program to make to be viable. But come on … how awesome was seeing such a #good technology being used for a #good cause? We’ll get further soon enough. It took patience for Pinto to learn how to operate the exoskeleton, and it will take us patience to see it become an everyday reality.