The World Cup’s opening ceremony may wind up being the most exciting event of the tournament.
A Brazilian person who is paralyzed will walk onto the pitch in Sao Paulo, Brazil, this June wearing an exoskeleton walking suit to complete the ceremonial first kick. Built with light metals and powered by hydraulics, the walking machine could one day make wheelchairs a thing of the past — all thanks to science.
Duke University professor Miguel Nicolelis is leading a large, multi-university and multi-nation research project to build a walking suit for paraplegic people. Nicolelis insists the technology enables human movements, instead of stiff, robotic ones.
“All of the innovations we’re putting together for this exoskeleton have in mind the goal of transforming it into something that can be used by patients who suffer from a variety of diseases and injuries that cause paralysis,” Nicolelis told The Guardian.
Nicolelis is training nine Brazilian paraplegic people, from ages 20 to 40, to use the exoskeleton. Three will attend the opening ceremony, and one will demonstrate how he or she can walk on the field.
The walking suit is connected to a head cap built with electrodes to pick up the user’s brain waves. The electrode cap and walking suit translates the brain’s signals into physical movements. The person wearing the suit can therefore “tell” it what to do by simply thinking about the desired motion.
There were approximately 273,000 people with spinal cord injuries in the Unites States in 2013, according to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center in Birmingham, Ala. If all goes to plan, walking — and even playing soccer — could be in their future.