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We are at a reflection point where technology and science fiction are beginning to converge. This afternoon in Sao Paulo, Brazil, over a billion people watched an amazing technological feat play out for the very first time. If exo-2you were wondering, it wasn’t a new type of live video insertion system, to make it easier for television viewers to see the goal line during the matches. It was much more impressive.

A 29-year-old paraplegic man named Juliano Pinto, did something he would never have imagined doing up until a year or so ago. Not only did he appear in front of billions of people around the globe, at the opening ceremony for the 2014 World Cup, but this man, paralyzed from the waste down, kicked off the largest Soccer event in the world, quite literally. As you will see briefly in the video below, Juliano Pinto, from a standing position, moved his right leg and kicked the ceremonial soccer ball.

“We did it!!!!”Tweeted Miguel Nicolelis, the head researcher on the project and neuroscientist at Duke University.

If you thought that was impressive, the science and research that went on behind it all will really send chills down your spine. In order to kick the ball, Pinto, who ordinarily has no control over the lower half of his body, used his mind to operate an exoskeleton-like machine that he was standing within.

 

A 3D printed helmet, attached sensors to Pinto’s skull in a very precise manner. If it was not for the capabilities we now have with 3D printing, none of this may have been possible, at least not so easily. Researchers who have been working under a consortium called the Walk Again Project, first 3D scanned Pinto’s head. From there they turned that scan into a 3D CAD model, which they fed to a 3D printer and created the plastic helmet, which was an exact fit to Pinto’s head. The helmet relayed signals from Pinto’s brain to a sophisticated computer in the backpack of the exoskeleton. That computer then decoded the signals and determined the movement of the hydraulic powered exoskeleton

“It’s the first time an exoskeleton has been controlled by brain activity and offered feedback to the patients,” Dr Nicolelis told the AFP news agency.

Pinto was one of eight patients who were trained over the last year to use the exoskeleton. They all performed quite well, with one overachiever reportedly taking 132 steps before tiring. Pinto ended up getting chosen to kick out the first ball, while the other seven patients watched from the sideline.

“It was up to Juliano to wear the exoskeleton, but all of them made that shot,” said Nicolelis. “It was a big score by these people and by our science.”

In the end, the hours of training and millions of dollars spent, turned out to be well worth it for the patient’s involved, the researchers on the project, as well as the attention that such technology was able to garner. Let us know what you thought about this amazing feat in the 3D printed exoskeleton forum thread at 3DPB.com.

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[Image Source: Getty Images]
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