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If I Think It You Can Do It - World Cup Kick Off In An Exoskeleton

posted Jun 15, 2014, 7:22 PM by Ellen Pearlman

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Paralyzed man in an exoskeleton kicks first ball for World Cup

Julian Pinto, a 29 year old man paralyzed from the waist down wore an EEG headset to activate his special robotic exoskeleton that enabled him to deliver the first kick of this year’s World Cup. It began early on as a project developed by neuroscientists from Duke University linking brains of monkeys to artificial devices (brain machine interfaces) or BMI.  The devices link the electrical activity of certain regions of the brain to trigger external robotic false appendages. 

This research has been a long time coming. In 2008, a successful iteration had a 12 pound monkey making a 200 pound robot remotely walk on a treadmill. 

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Monkey see, Robot Do - Graphic by the New York Times and Miguel Nicolelis, Department of Neurobiology, Duke University

As early as 2003 the lead researcher Brazilian born Dr. Nicolelis made a monkey’s brain control a robot’s grasping response. The jump to the current exoskeleton for the World Cup is the result of that initial experiment.

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The sculptural exoskeleton, photo by Carol Delmazo/World Cup Portal

To deliver a kick at the World Cup is a real grandstanding moment, and one that looks flashy yet compelling. The criticism is that the brain can easily turn a signal on or off, and that simple trick is enough to make the exoskeleton deliver a kick. And the exoskeleton is not exactly new. There are already experimental models that help paralyzed people walk, though running and kicking a ball like a Brazilian soccer star has yet to happen. 

EEG signals are imperfect and carry a lot of “noise” or static-y signals. They are certainly not pinpoint accurate. However, there was a lot at stake in this one kick. Brazil’s federal innovation agency gave Dr. Nicoleis 15 million dollars to pull this one kick off.  At first the doctor was going to plant electrodes in his subject’s brain, but because EEG had “low spatial resolution,” that configuration just did not work out - way too risky.

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Testing exoskeleton walking with soundtrack of “Mission Impossible” playing in the background

Dr. Nicolelis is certainly a neuroscientist with flair. On his Facebook page, he has a test video of the robot taking a slow walk with the soundtrack of ‘Mission Impossible’ playing in the background.

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Hal, the Japanese model

The Japanese have already developed Hal, a robotic battery powered prosthetic that can be used if one is missing a leg. Hal looks much better than the exoskeleton. Hal comes with nifty calibration software, but its all in Japanese.

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Japanese calibration software for Hal

And they even have something called the Cyberdene Studio, where you can check out the latest models! 

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Cyberdene Studio - Take One Home For the Whole Family!

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Or come on down and try one on! Better than video gamers!

Instead on playing video games, you can have group outings to play with prosthetics! That is everyone except, as Cyberdene Studio cautions, “A lady who is pregnant and a person with a positive implanted medical device, such as a pacemaker is not suitable for wearing Robot Suit HAL.®”

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