Thursday, January 2, 2014

Paralyzed teen using mind-controlled exoskeleton will kick off 2014 World Cup in Brazil

From New Scientist:

It will be quite some show of skill. The first kick of the 2014 Football World Cup in Brazil might not come from the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi. Instead, if all goes to plan, a teenager paralyzed from the waist down will use the world's most advanced mind-controlled exoskeleton to swing at the ball.

The spectacle will showcase the Walk Again Project, an international collaboration using technology to overcome paralysis. The team's exoskeleton supports the lower body and is controlled by patterns of brain activity detected by electrodes placed either on the scalp or within the brain itself. These signals are sent wirelessly to a computer worn by the wearer, that converts them into movements. The kicker will be one of a small group of people training in Brazil with a virtual exoskeleton before trying the real thing.

Movement alone isn't enough to make the experience of walking feel natural, so the team hopes to incorporate sensors into the exoskeleton that feed information about touch, temperature and force back to the wearer. That feedback will come through a visual display or a vibrating motor. Eventually these sensations could be transmitted straight to the brain, which would allow the wearer to truly feel that the exoskeleton is part of their body.

"The vibrations can replicate the sensation of touching the ground, rolling off the toe and kicking off again," says the lead robotic engineer Gordon Cheng, at the Technical University of Munich, Germany. The challenge will be to match those sensations to the brain patterns and movements. "There's so much detail in this, it's phenomenal," he says.