Paralyzed person wearing brain-controlled exoskeleton to kick off the World Cup today

June 12, 2014

The first ceremonial kick of the World Cup game (Brazil, June 12, 2014) may be made by a paralyzed teenager wearing an exoskeleton (credit: Walk Again Project)

A paralyzed person wearing a brain-controlled robotic exoskeleton is expected to make the first kick during the opening of the FIFA 2014 World Cup in Brazil on June 12.

The Walk Again Project is an international collaboration of more than 100 scientists, led by Prof. Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University and the International Institute for Neurosciences of Natal, Brazil.

Eight Brazilian patients who are paralyzed from the waist down have been training for months to use the exoskeleton. The system works by recording electrical activity in the patient’s brain, recognizing his or her intention — such as to take a step or kick a ball — and translating that to action.

It also gives the patient tactile feedback using CellulARSkin, a sensitive artificial skin created by Gordon Cheng, head of the Institute for Cognitive Systems at the Technische Universität München(TUM).

Prototype of CellulARSkin (credit: A. Heddergott/TUM)

A low-power-consumption microprocessor and sensors detect pre-touch proximity, pressure, vibration, temperature, and  movement in three-dimensional space.

These individual “cells” can be networked together in a honeycomb pattern, protected in the current prototype by a rubbery skin of molded elastomer.

In the Walk Again Project, CellulARSkin is integrated with the exoskeleton. On the bottom of each foot, for example, the artificial skin sends signals to tiny motors that vibrate against the patient’s arms.

By training with this kind of indirect sensory feedback, a patient can learn to incorporate the robotic legs and feet into his or her own body schema. CellulARSkin is also being wrapped around parts of the patient’s own body to help the medical team monitor for any signs of distress or discomfort.