Paraplegic teen kicks off World Cup

By Efrosini Costa

Paraplegic teen kicks off World Cup
Using a mind-controlled robotic exoskeleton, a paraplegic makes the first kick off at Rio's World Cup.

Juliano Pinto is the name of the young volunteer who performed the symbolic first kick off during the opening ceremony of the 2014 World Cup.

According to news reports the 29-year-old is completely paralysed from the waist down. Using his robotic suit, Pinto kicked the official ball a short distance on a mat laid down by the touchline at the Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo.

The stuff of science fiction films was a long time in the making. For years a team of more than 150 researchers, led by Brazilian neuroscientist Dr Miguel Nicolelis, have been developing the mind-bending technology.

“We did it!!!” he tweeted after the ambitious feat which was witnessed by 60,000 fans at the opening match between Brazil and Croatia.

“It was up to Juliano to wear the exoskeleton, but all of them made that shot. It was a big score by these people and by our science,” Nicolelis, the leading figure of brain-machine interfaces said.

One of eight volunteers, the teen’s identity was kept a secret until after the event. the participants, all over the age of 20 – the oldest 35 – had been training at Nicolelis lab in Sao Paulo.

The exoskeleton works by using non-invasive headgear which uses hair-thin flexible sensors that read brain waves to control the entire suit. The suit uses hydraulics that are powered by a battery pack and can last for up to two hours continuous use.

Whats most interesting about the development is that patients with no apparent feeling in their limbs reported ‘feeling’ the sensation of walking on the ground – a milestone for the bodily disabled.

“It’s the first time an exoskeleton has been controlled by brain activity and offered feedback to the patients,” said Nicolelis, who along with his team have called their work the Walk Again Project. They claim the demonstration is “just the beginning of a future in which people with paralysis may abandon the wheelchair and literally walk again.”

Watch the historic moment:


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