World Cup 2014: ‘Iron Man’ paraplegic to kick ceremonial first ball


Sports love to drum up big events and games with a lot of pomp and circumstance beforehand. This ranges from having seemingly every patriotic song you learned in grade school sung before national anthem at the Super Bowl, to guests coin-tosses, first pitches before baseball games and puck drops for hockey games.

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So it should come as no surprise that at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil there will be a ceremonial “first kick.” While it might have been tempting to get a celebrity to take it, or perhaps Brazilian soccer superstar/god Pele, they’ve instead got a paraplegic wearing a robotic bodysuit controlled by signals from the brain. Many have compared the suit to that of the Iron Man comic books and movies.

“It’s the first time an exoskeleton has been controlled by brain activity and offered feedback to the patients,” said Brazilian doctor Miguel Nicolelis, a neuroscientist at Duke University, via the Discovery Channel.

“Doing a demonstration in a stadium is something very much outside our routine in robotics. It’s never been done before.”

The identity of the person in the skeleton has been kept a secret for some reason. It is also receiving it’s fair share of backlash for the public nature of the demonstration, some in the science community apparently want the lab to focus more solely on academic publications instead of a demonstration that could be seen by a billion people.

There are also those who have complained about his research getting an unfair share of the Brazilian budget.

“The funding is the same with or without the World Cup. We’ve received $14 million from the Brazilian government over the last two years. That’s approximately four or five times less than what the United States government invests in a mechanical arm,” he said.

“I don’t see anything wrong with demonstrating a technology for the whole world that has a humanitarian objective and was paid for by civil society,” he added.

Still it should be pretty remarkable to see and why not? We’ve already seen a robot kick a soccer ball with President Obama.