This robotic exoskeleton is helping the paralyzed walk again


Here’s a look at the robotic suit that researchers are developing. (Courtesy of Miguel Nicolelis)

Imagine a world where we don’t need wheelchairs. The quality of life for the disabled would grow by leaps and bounds. For years scientists from around the world have worked to create a robotic exoskeleton that would be controlled by a person’s brainwaves. Their work is closer than ever to delivering results.

The world could get a glimpse of this technology when the World Cup begins in Sao Paulo in June. There are plans for a paralyzed teen to walk onto the field and kick a ball to ceremonially mark the beginning of the competition.

Miguel Nicolelis, who leads the Walk Again project, reported in March that the eight patients who are training for the World Cup appearance can now control the exoskeleton with their brains.

A paralyzed patient walks on a treadmill while wearing the exoskeleton. (Miguel Nicolelis)
A paralyzed patient walks on a treadmill while wearing the exoskeleton. (Miguel Nicolelis)

“I think this is our moonshot, the moonshot of the 21st century, to make millions of people walk again just by thinking,” Nicolelis once told Jon Stewart.

The paralyzed person wears a cap that reads brain signals. The signals are routed to a backpack-like device that instructs the suit to move accordingly, using batteries to power the hydraulic system.

“I feel like I’m walking on the beach, that I’m touching the sand,” one patient reportedly told Nicolelis.

A prototype in a lab is a long way from an affordable, commercially viable product, but Nicolelis’s progress is a very welcome development.


A look at the framework of the exoskeleton. (Courtesy of Miguel Nicolelis)

The opening sequence of this year’s World Cup may be unforgettable. (Walk Again Project)
Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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