Sports are no longer exclusive for people with perfect bodies, as the eight paraplegics wearing exo-skeletons will demonstrate today, while kicking off the FIFA World Cup 2014 championship in Brazil.
The similarities between the exo-skeletons that these paralyzed persons will wear today and the one worn by Tony Stark as Iron Man arise from the fact that both are brain-controlled. Other than that, the designs differ quite a lot.
Prof. Gordon Cheng at Technische Universität München explained how the idea of building such exo-skeletons came after a collaboration with Prof. Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University and the International Institute for Neurosciences of Natal, Brazil: “Miguel set up a monkey walking on a treadmill in North Carolina, and then I made my humanoid robot [which you can see in the above picture] walk with the signal in Kyoto. Our brains are very adaptive in the way that we can extend our embodiment to use tools, as in driving a car or eating with chopsticks. After the Kyoto experiment, we felt certain that the brain could also liberate a paralyzed person to walk using an external body.”
The Walk Again Project includes 100 researchers from all over the globe, Cheng being a team leader with a noble scope: “It’s a key societal endeavor that we want to accomplish, to enable someone to walk again after they have been paralyzed for many years.”
Cheng pointed out that there’s a lot of room for future improvements, and the team won’t stop here: “This is one big milestone, a demonstration of what science can really do for somebody, but we still have a lot to do. We should be able to make the exoskeleton cheaper, more agile, more diverse for the patient. I think we’ll be able to invest another 10 years on this, and it’s a worthy effort. Also, I see it as a great tribute to all the patients’ hard work and their bravery!”
The idea of helping paralyzed people enjoy life again by helping them walk would’ve been absurd a few decades ago, and pure heresy or witchcraft a few centuries ago. However, it is now quite clear that the only source of miracles is represented by science and the researchers that put a lot of time and thinking into creating such innovative concepts.
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