The FIFA World Cup generates tremendous global buzz every four years, and the 2014 games will be even more exciting as a Brazilian paraplegic will don a state-of–the–art robotic exoskeleton and take a kick during the opening ceremony. “The movements are very smooth,” said Dr. Miguel Nicolelis about the exoskeleton to the Guardian. “They are human movements, not robotic movements.”
At Thursday‘s event in San Paulo, Brazil, the yet-to-be named paraplegic will wear a robotic suit and special cap outfitted with numerous tiny electrodes. The electrodes detect complex brain signals and translate them into digital commands that will cue the user’s leg movements. Nicolelis, a neuroengineer at Duke University, hasn’t had much time to ready his team for this historic moment but he hopes to at least stoke the human imagination. “It’s more of a symbolic gesture that science can provide the kind of hope that millions of people around the world would like to have to one day walk again,” he told the Scientific American.
The world may be dazzled this week, but the technology is far from being a viable solution for the millions living with spinal cord injuries. Nicolelis is hoping for an implantable device, but the technology must first be miniaturized and the surgical risks minimized. He doesn’t want to risk user satisfaction for technology that isn’t ready to be debuted. “Our eight participants are very happy with the results and I don’t think they would be happy with implantable technologies that cannot deliver more benefits for locomotion than we have for external sensors,“ he says.