Paraplegic Kicks Off World Cup In Exo-Skeleton

Mind-controlled robotic suit developed in time for tournament's first game.

ByABC News
June 12, 2014, 12:13 PM

— -- The 2014 World Cup started with a kick-off that was an automatic goal, after a paraplegic citizen walked onto the field wearing a mind-controlled robotic suit and kicked a soccer ball to start off the games.

As part of the Walk Again Project, a man walked onto the field wearing a specially-designed exo-skeleton that has small motors allowing a paralyzed person to “walk” and even “kick” again.

Miguel Nicolelis, helped lead the Walk Again team in Brazil as they raced against time to make sure the exo-skeleton was ready for the opening day of the World Cup.

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"When you make a promise to 250 million people, you can’t run out of time,” Nicolelis told ABC News in an earlier interview. “Everybody knows that we will never have anything like [this] again.”

Nicolelis ran the project along with an international group of at least 100 scientists and researchers to develop the device. 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.

“[It] allows the patient to employ his or her own brain activity,” Nicolelis said. “They can walk and for the world cup they can kick a ball. They can steer or left or right. As we go after the world cup, we would like to examine a number of other movements.”

Since the users have to “think” their way onto the field, they had unique training techniques. In addition to practicing the movement, Nicolelis had them be bombarded with loud sounds and lights to ready them for a crowded, cheering stadium.

“We created distractions,” said Nicholelis of the earlier test runs. “[But] even in the middle of that huge sound and people screaming and people rooting we were able to do it."