Brazil’s victory in the World Cup opener against Croatia Thursday paled in comparison to one man’s triumph at the Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo.
Juliano Pinto, a paraplegic 29-year-old, miraculously kicked off the World Cup thanks to a robotic suit that moved his leg and enabled the kick.
Pinto’s robot suit was backed by Walk Again Project, an international collaboration between more than 150 researchers at a number of different universities. Neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University Medical Center led the construction of the suit, which functions off electrodes under a cap that transmit signals from the brain to the exoskeleton, translating those signals into movements like steps and kicks.
The suit also contains LED sensors and an artificial “skin” of circuit boards, which send feedback to Pinto to help him guide the robotic legs.
“The basic idea is that we are recording from the brain and then that signal is being translated into commands for the robot to start moving,” Dr. Gordon Cheng, a member of the Walk Again team, told the BBC.
In its current state, the robot suit is pretty bulky and is in the early stages of existence, but the hope is that one day the suit will be lightweight and accessible enough to actually serve paralysed people in their everyday life.
According to a press release from Walk Again, Pinto’s kick “is only the beginning of a future in which the robotic garment will evolve to the point of becoming accessible and enabling anyone with paralysis to walk freely. And the World Cup will be a milestone to show the world that the project is moving in that direction.”