The World Cup literally kicked off yesterday in Sao Palo, Brazil with a kick made by a man with complete paralysis of the lower trunk. Juliano Pinto, 29, used a robo-suit that let him use his brainwaves to control his normally unresponsive lower limbs in order to make contact with the game ball.
A small piece of Colorado was on the field in a very big way during this event. The helmet liner helping to send the brainwaves' message to the suit was designed and created on the Fort Collins' Colorado State University campus in a 3D printing lab. Alan Rudolph, CSU vice President for Research was the business manager of the Walk Again Project and has been splitting his time between Colorado and Brazil in anticipation of Pinto's big moment.
Here's a clip of the kick:
The kick may seem anti-climatic, given that Pinto made a mere half-second's contact with the ball while on the side of the field at Manaus stadium. But this small act marked the first time a paralyzed person walked on his own using a device he directs.
Miguel Nicolelis, lead developer for Walk Again Project and neuroscience researcher from Duke University, proved monkeys could control a robotic arm with only their thoughts in 2003. Before moving to Colorado, Rudolph worked alongside him as he conducted his research.
Then, in 2013, when he joined the CSU team in Fort Collins, Rudolph brought the Walk Again Project to campus. There was a gap in the project, literally. Rudolph and cmopany needed a liner to fill the space between the patient's head and the helmet. The liner needed to connect to electrodes on the patient and the helmet and be flexible enough to move, yet also be strong enough to make the connections when movement occurs. 3D printing was the answer, and CSU researchers and students worked for months designing and making the piece that was used in Brazil.
David Prawel, Research Scientist at the printing lab told CSU Today, a daily online news outlet, that the team worked around the clock to get their piece done in time for prototypes to be sent to Brazil for testing. "It's very exciting to be part of such a significant -- and life-changing -- project," he said.
Rudolph has seen pure joy and hope on the twenty patients taking part in the project as they practiced walking with the exoskeleton. He said before the event that he believes the demonstration will have the same effect on the millions who tune in to watch the kick.
Yesterday at about noon Mountain time, Pinto was wheeled in front of the millions in the stadium and stood up on his own. As the exoskeleton was supported by assistants, he kicked the ball. A look of pure joy can be seen from his face. Minutes after the event, the Walk Again Project tweeted this message:
— Walk Again Project (@walkagainprojct) June 12, 2014
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Here's a CSU video detailing the university's part of the project.
More from our Education archive circa August 2012: "CU-Boulder allows guns in family housing units, CSU says no."