A teenager paralyzed from the waist down will have a chance to not only usher in the 2014 World Cup but to kick a soccer ball in front of millions of captivated fans.
New Scientist (h/t Business Insider) reports on remarkable technology utilizing brain signals to move an exoskeleton. The hope is to showcase this device right before the start of the biggest international sporting event of the year.
Duke.edu explains further at a page touting the Walk Again technology:
This started with research from the Nicolelis lab using hair-thin and flexible sensors, known as microwires, that have been implanted into the brains of rats & monkeys. These flexible electrical prongs can detect minute electrical signals, or action potentials, generated by hundreds of individual neurons distributed throughout the animals’ frontal and parietal cortices—the regions that define a vast brain circuit responsible for the generation of voluntary movements.
The report continues that with training and what they consider "non-invasive" headgear, a teen previously without the use of his legs will actually kick a ball.
Any endeavor that promises movement for the paralyzed is undoubtedly expansive. The report states that the entire project comes from a team effort among "the Duke University Center for Neuroengineering, the Technical University of Munich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, the Edmond and Lily Safra International Institute of Neuroscience of Natal in Brazil, The University of California, Davis, The University of Kentucky, and Regis Kopper of The Duke immersive Virtual Environment."
Baseball fans might recall that technology helped one sick fan throw out the first pitch earlier this year.
As the New York Daily News reported in June, the robot featured in the video mimicked movements from Nick LeGrande—a 13-year-old with aplastic anemia who tossed out the first pitch at Oakland—all the way from his home in Kansas City, Mo.
Researchers are hoping to deliver the same level of aid for those who lost their ability to walk. Below is a video posted in October, featuring Duke professor of biology Miguel Nicolelis, who chronicles how he and his team got to this point.
The Washington Post's Devin Powell spoke with Nicolelis, who expounded on the impetus behind the World Cup target date: "We want to galvanize people’s imaginations. With enough political will and investment, we could make wheelchairs obsolete."
There is hardly a bigger stage than the World Cup, the perfect place to excite people worldwide about technology that could do a great deal of good for paralyzed patients.
Powell states that there is no confirmation on the person who will helm the device, simply stating there is a group of 10 teenagers working with the device through a "virtual-reality simulator." In time, a teenager will be selected to wear and work the device at the highly anticipated event.
There is still a great deal of work to be done to assure that the Walk Again Project is ready by the opening game in June.
If successful, an already eager group of millions will be met with a device that should captivate, invigorate and inspire.
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