Scientists Rush to Finish Mind-Controlled Robotic Suit Before World Cup

PHOTO: Researchers have less than two months before they debut the mind-controlled robotic suit at the world cup.
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A Brazilian neuroscientist is racing to finish a mind-controlled exoskeleton that is scheduled to debut in less than 50 days at the opening ceremonies for the World Cup.

Miguel Nicolelis, a professor of neurosciences at Duke University, told ABC News that he is counting down “the hours” before the exoskeleton -- made to help paraplegic patients walk again -- is scheduled to debut on the field during the World Cup opening ceremonies in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

"Running out of time is out of the question. When you make a promise to 250 million people, you can’t run out of time,” said Nicolelis. “We left last night at 3:30 a.m. and back at 9:30 a.m. Everybody knows that we will never have anything like [this] again.”

Nicolelis is running the Walk Again Project along with an international group of at least 100 scientists and researchers to develop the device. The machine is “worn” by the user and has small motors inside to help a paralyzed person walk or even kick a ball.

The Amazing First Steps of an Exoskeleton

The user wears a cap fitted with electrodes that read the users' brain waves and allow them to control the device through these sensors. The machine “reads these” electrodes so that it starts walking. Running so far is out of the question.

“We’re on track so—the most important part is the human part. They’re all trained and all ready to go,” said Nicolelis of the volunteers who are trained to operate the machine.

During the opening ceremonies one volunteer will wear the robotic suit, walk onto the field, and a kick a ball.

Although mind-controlled exoskeletons have been used before, Nicolelis said this is the most involved machine and says while the machine’s movements are limited they are not simply pre-programmed into the device. Nicolelis said the users have had to practice controlling the device in a simulator to mimic the noise and pressure of walking onto the field during the world cup.

“We created distractions. Even in the middle of that huge sound and [with] people screaming and people rooting we were able to do it,” said Nicolelis. “You can get focused to your task if you train a little bit.”

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