Scientists Hope To Debut Mind-Controlled Robotic Suit At World Cup

A robot designed to assist paraplegics is almost complete and will be debuted at the World Cup in Brazil

By Samantha Olson on April 30, 2014 1:49 PM EDT

A Mind-Controlled Robot Scheduled To Debut At World Cup
Scientists have developed a mind-controlled robot for paraplegics that will kick a soccer ball at the World Cup in Brazil. (Photo: <a href="http://www.sh / Samantha Olson)

A robot that scientists have designed to help paraplegic patients walk again is scheduled to make its first appearance at the World Cup opening ceremonies in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Scientists are rushing to meet the deadline, which is less than 50 days away, in order to show the mind-controlled robotic suit's power to millions of people.

"Running out of time is out of the question. When you make a promise to 250 million people, you can't run out of time," Miguel Nicolelis a professor of neaurosciences at Duke University told ABC News. "We left last night at 3:30 a.m. and back at 9:30 a.m. Everybody knows that we will never have anything like [this] again."

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An international group of at least 100 scientists are working together to complete the robot in time. During the opening ceremonies, a volunteer will walk out wearing the robotic suit and kick a ball.

The power is behind the electrode-covered cap users wear. The device's electrodes read the users' brain waves and the information is communicated through sensors. Once the machine processes the electrodes' signals, it will be instructed to walk across the field to the ball.

"We're on track so-the most important part is the human part. They're all trained and all ready to go," said Nicolelis of the volunteers who are trained to operate the machine.

The volunteers that will be using the robot have had practice walking onto the field with a simulator. It mimicked the same noise and pressure the user will experience when they walk during the much-anticipated world cup ceremony. The scientists have accounted for various elements of surprise that may conflict with the sensors' communication, such as the stadium cheering.

"We created distractions. Even in the middle of that huge sound and [with] people screaming and people rooting we were able to do it," said Nicolelis. "You can get focused to your task if you train a little bit."

Nicolelis is running the Walk Again Project at the Duke immersive Virtual Environment (DiVE) at Duke University. The Project is a nonprofit collaboration of several world-wide universities that is based on research using hair-thin sensors implemented into rats and monkeys. The sensors can detect signals that control the action by hundreds of individual neurons in the animal. The headpiece used on the opening day in Brazil will be non-invasive and the first of its kind.

DiVE started in 2006 and has allowed users to interact in a room with screens that cover all four walls, ceiling and floor, which allows users to walk into virtual worlds. The system is the fourth one of its kind in the United States and creates a seamless interaction between humans and the digital world, much like the mind-controlled robot.

Mind-controlled exoskeletons have been used before, however the machine Nicolelis' team developed doesn't require pre-programmed instructions and won't be as limited as past machines. According to Nicolelis, it is the most involved robot yet.

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