Paraplegic kicks off World Cup with mind-controlled exoskeleton

Strapped into a robotic exoskeleton, paraplegic Juliano Pinto makes history by standing upright to kick a soccer ball for World Cup opening ceremonies.

Bonnie Burton
Journalist Bonnie Burton writes about movies, TV shows, comics, science and robots. She is the author of the books Live or Die: Survival Hacks, Wizarding World: Movie Magic Amazing Artifacts, The Star Wars Craft Book, Girls Against Girls, Draw Star Wars, Planets in Peril and more! E-mail Bonnie.
Bonnie Burton
2 min read

Juliano Pinto uses a mind-controlled robotic exoskeleton to open the World Cup. Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

The 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil made history when a 29-year-old paraplegic man named Juliano Pinto kicked a soccer ball with the aid of a robotic exoskeleton during Thursday's opening ceremonies in Sao Paulo.

The exoskeleton was created with the help of over 150 researchers led by neuroscientist Dr. Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University. The researchers worked together as part of a collaboration among several universities called the Walk Again Project.

To operate the robotic suit, the wearer moves his legs by thinking about it. Sensors inside a cap on the wearer's head transfers the neuronal information and sends it to a computer inside the exoskeleton's backpack. This information is then sent to the legs of the exoskeleton, which move via hydraulic drivers.

"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," team member Dr. Gordon Cheng told BBC News.

Pinto successfully kicked the ball with Walk Again Project scientists proudly standing by him inside the Corinthians Arena.

"We did it!" Nicolelis tweeted in celebration of the exoskeleton's groundbreaking moment. This moment is monumental considering that only a couple of months ago, Nicolelis was excited just to have people buzzing about the idea of a mind-controlled exoskeleton being tested in such a grand fashion.

"Despite all of the difficulties of the project, it has already succeeded," Nicolelis told Grandland. "You go to Sao Paulo today, or you go to Rio, people are talking about this demo more than they are talking about football, which is unbelievably impossible in Brazil."