Paralyzed man in mind-controlled exoskeleton kicks off FIFA World Cup 2014

by Stefanie Rudrich
Marketing Manager (Brain Products)

On June 12, 2014, Juliano Pinto wore a robotic suit that allowed him to symbolically kick off the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. We at Brain Products are proud to have contributed to this magic moment as Juliano stepped out onto the field, wearing the actiCAP and mind-controlling the heavy exoskeleton.

Due to a car accident in 2006, 29-year-old Brazilian Juliano Pinto suffers from complete paralysis of his lower trunk and limbs. Controlling an exoskeleton by means of a BCI (integrating Brain Products’ actiCAP) gives him hope to return to a more normal life and recently allowed him to demonstrate his confidence by successfully completing the ceremonial kick off at the FIFA World Cup 2014.

In the run-up of the FIFA World Cup 2014, Juliano and seven other paralyzed persons had trained for a period of 6 months to envision the physical movements as performed during a kick-off such that the resulting EEG signals could be sent to processors that decoded and reliably relayed them to the hydraulics in an exoskeleton. In this so-called “shared control concept”, a part of the higher order decision is executed by the brain, while the low-level movement is enacted by the robot. High-order decisions include commands such as “start walking”, “stop walking”, “accelerate”, “slow down”, “turn left”, “turn right”, “kick the ball”.

For this purpose, the initial plan was to use implanted electrodes. However, it turned out that actiCAP’s noninvasive, active electrodes deliver such excellent results making it unnecessary to take the risks that arise with implanting sensors.

The credits for this brief, but truly magic moment at the FIFA World Cup 2014 opening ceremony go to everyone involved in the WALK AGAIN PROJECT. Led by Brazilian neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis, this project is a nonprofit, international collaboration of 150 researchers across the globe focusing on advanced technologies to help people with paralysis walk again. Involved institutions include 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 from The Duke immersive Virtual Environment.

As early as 2011, Nicolelis had the vision of building a robotic suit that could restore mobility and the ability to sense texture for severely paralyzed patients and to demonstrate it at the 2014 World Cup. As billions of soccer fans worldwide could witness, Nicolelis and his team managed to achieve this ambitious goal.

Quoting Nicolelis on CNN … we’ll see a person walking on the streets that could not walk before … I think in our lifetime we’ll see that” all of us should be following closely what is up next for the WALK AGAIN PROJECT and cross our fingers for him and his team.