World Cup 2014: The Magic Moment

I love soccer. And it’s been a while now! Back in 1950, I was a child, lived in Rio, but did not go to Maracanã to watch the finals between Brazil and Uruguay. At that time, there was no live TV. I heard on the radio the end of the game, when Brazil lost 2×1, the “Maracanazo”, and then the deafening silence of the streets following the unexpected outcome.

And now, here I am, as the 2014 World Cup nears, here in Brazil, now living in Curitiba, my hometown. Not to be left out, I managed to get tickets to watch Iran X Nigeria, which should be a “great” ball game! One of the two or both will advance, and become “finalists”, as the World Cup final for these teams should still occur in the first stage …

But, again, this is a blog on technology, and I will comment on what will be, in my view, the most important part of this tournament. Before the opening match Brazil vs Croatia, we will watch an unusual kick-off. It will bear almost zero sports content and an immeasurable amount of human achievement and demonstration of how science can improve the quality of life.

walkagainThe WalkAgain project selected a few very special people – paraplegics- and the global team led by Brazilian neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis, will choose one of the 8 candidates to wear an exoskeleton coupled to its body. Then this person will rise from a wheelchair, walk a few steps and kick the soccer ball in the presence of 70,000 fans in the stadium and over 1 billion, on TV and the internet.

If all goes well, there will be a clear demonstration how powerful scientific knowledge can be. This application, and the potential it creates, enabling people deprived of their ability to walk, may become commonplace, in a foreseeable future.

This demonstration can send the world a message about the talents involved in the Walk Again project, initiated in the United States by Dr. Nicolelis at the Duke University, where he teaches and does research.

The scientific world knows who Dr. Nicolelis is. The world of ordinary people, like us, know little or nothing. If you poll Brazilians on who is this Nicolelis, probably the most common answer will be a “do not know“, perhaps followed by “a player from Greece?“.

How will it work?

A Brazilian youth on wheelchair will come into the Itaquerão Arena in Sao Paulo, this June 12, equipped with this exoskeleton controlled solely by his or her brain. This person will rise from the chair, take a few steps without any assistance and will kick the ball off. Detail: this person has no ability to move the legs, but he or she will be walking!

This device is constructed with lightweight metal and powered by a hydraulic system and a lot of digital electronics, a prototype of something that may one day make wheelchairs obsolete.

Miguel Nicolelis leads a team working in several universities in several countries to build a “machine” for paraplegic persons.

“All the innovations we are bringing to this exoskeleton have the goal of turning it into something that can be used by patients suffering from a variety of illnesses and injuries that cause paralysis,” Nicolelis told the British newspaper “The Guardian”.

A group of eight paraplegic Brazilians aged 20 to 40, are in the final stages of training to wear the exoskeleton. Three of them will participate in the opening ceremony, and one or will walk on the field and get the ball rolling.

The mechanisms will be linked to a kind of cap on the head, with connecting electrodes that pick up the user’s brain waves. These signals are interpreted by digital processors connected to the exoskeleton and transform them into physical movements. Think and walk, the legs will obey!

For a universe of millions of paraplegics in the world, this perspective of being able to walk autonomously looks promising.

Nicolelis was interviewed by Brazilian Globo TV “Fantástico” TV show, where he showed the project’s laboratory in São Paulo.

What really matters is that this World Cup opening, initiated by a walking paraplegic, will call the attention of people who have decision power on education, to the need to prioritize increasingly applied research and teaching of Exact Sciences and create passion for science. If it works, all the immense cost of the 2014 World Cup will be worth it. Regardless of the outcome of the final, with or without the cup for Brazil.

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Eu gosto de futebol. Faz tempo! Em 1950, era criança, morava no Rio, mas não fui ao Maracanã ver Brasil x Uruguai. Naquele tempo, não havia TV. Ouvi pelo rádio a final do Maracanazo, e depois o silêncio ensurdecedor das ruas com a perda da Copa para os vizinhos uruguaios.

Chego à Copa de 2014, de novo aqui no Brasil, morando em Curitiba, minha cidade natal. Para não ficar de fora, o máximo que consegui foi o ingresso para ver Irã X Nigéria, que deve ser um jogão de bola! Um dos dois, ou os dois serão finalistas antecipados, ou melhor, o final da Copa para esses times deve ocorrer ainda na primeira fase…

Mas, de novo, aqui é um blog de tecnologia e vou comentar sobre o que será, na minha perspectiva, o ponto marcante da Copa. Antes do jogo inaugural Brasil x Croácia, veremos o chute simbólico inicial. Terá…

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