Decades of testing on rats and monkeys has finally led to the point when mechanical exoskeletons could be of real benefit to people with disabilities that affect mobility and the use of their extremities. The Walk Again Project is a nonprofit group that plans to use the technology to allow a teenager disabled from the waist down to make the opening kick at this year’s World Cup in Brazil.
“We want to galvanize people’s imaginations,” said Miguel Nicolelis, the Brazilian neuroscientist at Duke University who is leading the project’s efforts, in an interview with The Washington Post. “With enough political will and investment, we could make wheelchairs obsolete.”
The mechanical exoskeleton will be stabilized by gyroscopes and powered by a backpack battery carried by the kicker. German-made sensors will relay a feeling of pressure when each foot touches the ground. Selected from a pool of 10 candidates, the teenager has undergone months of training in a virtual-reality simulator, which proves that using your brain to control an artificial isn’t the most straightforward of tasks.
Devices plugged directly into the brain have come long way in restoring some self-reliance to stroke victims, car crash survivors, injured soldiers and others hampered by incapacitated or missing limbs. The publicity generated by the opening kick at the World Cup can only serve to strengthen the funding and support for the movement, which is why Nicolelis is confident, but understandably nervous about the final outcome.
Source: The Washington Post