On the 12th of June in Brazil, the Men’s World Cup of Soccer will start, probably one of the most expected sporting event of the year. The event will last for one month and it is estimated that almost 14% of the population will be watching the games. It is not only a big event for sports fans, but also for people in the medical and technological field. It is the first time when a bionic exoskeleton is introduced and it will allow a paraplegic who can’t walk nor feel any sensation in the lower extremities, to “stand up, walk over to a soccer ball and kick it, controlling their actions using their own mind.”
The bionic exoskeleton, controlled by a brain-computer interface and with 3D printed parts is the idea and the creation of Walk Again Project, a non-profit organization, bringing together the Technical University of Munich, the Duke University Center for Neuroengineering, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, the Edmond and Lily Safra International Institute of Neuroscience, The University of Kentucky, The University of California, Davis, and Regis Kopper of The Duke immersive Virtual Environment. Dr Miguel A.L. Nicolelis was the one to pioneer this idea.
What’s amazing about the exoskeleton is that it works when the patient is just thinking about walking, he controls the movement of the metal legs. And all of these are possible because of a helmet with sensors for certain areas so that, the device receive signals for movement. This helmet is the key element of the exoskeleton, being actually its “brain”.
The Men’s World Cup of Soccer seemed like the perfect event for showing the new exoskeleton, Dr. Nicolelis says that “sports can be a huge avenue to reach out to people that would never actually pay attention to science news. I always wanted to show kids in Brazil how important science can be for society.”
It is true that by presenting such an advanced technology to the public on the occasion of a huge sporting event, the invention will get all the attention it deserves, but, on the other hand, other paralyzed people will be too excited and want the exoskeleton for themselves. But it will last some time until the machine could reach the other paraplegics.