The past tells us that, usually, the first kick in a major soccer international competition is symbolically taken by a famous person. In the 2014 World Cup, which will be held in Brazil and will start on June 12th, that honor will be given to a total unknown person. However, this John Doe is paralyzed from the waist down. Then how will he do this, you ask?
Well, the answer is actually slightly related to Iron Man, the comic book character from Marvel. No, the teen will not arrive to the stadium flying like Tony Stark does, but instead he will use the power of a mind-controlled exoskeleton to walk and kick the ball, which is unthinkable for someone fully paralyzed from the waist down.
This event is related to a showcase of a project named Walk Again, which is a collaboration between the Duke University Center for Neuroengineering, the Technical University of Munich, and other renowned universities.
These exoskeletons are attached to the user's limbs (and torso, but just for balance purposes). With electrodes attached to the user's head, which detect and read brain waves, the suits initiate movement by "pushing" the legs in the regular movement healthy limbs would have.
The exoskeleton is still under development, and researchers want to make the movement as "real" and "non-robotic" as possible. They expect to achieve this by incorporating more sensors, in order to monitor touch, temperature and force, giving feedback to the user through a visual panel or vibration.
As I said before, this kick-off will be performed by a teenager. A Brazilian teenager, to be more precise, which will be chosen from a group of applicants which is currently testing the suit using virtual reality technology.
This initiative is truly remarkable, not only because it breaks barriers and raises awareness to paralyzed people, it marks an important step in the evolution of this technology. If research is so advanced allowing for a paralyzed teen to go on a field and kick a ball, we should expect an implementation of exoskeletons soon enough, so that paralyzed individuals regain the ability to walk.