World Cup’s First Kick Will Be Made by “Iron Man”

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
June 9 2014 6:09 PM

World Cup’s First Kick Will Be Made by “Iron Man”

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2014 World Cup and soccer memorabilia are on display in a tourist shop in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Photo Illustration by Mario Tama/Getty Images

A paraplegic individual in a robotic Iron Man-like bodysuit will be taking the "first kick" at the World Cup opening ceremony in Sao Paulo, Brazil on Thursday.

Controlled by brain signals, the suit is the product of a team of 156 scientists from around the world. Spearheaded by Brazilian doctor Miguel Nicolelis, the team created an exoskeleton wired to work together with the user’s nervous system that consists of a cap, computer, battery and legs. When the operator wants to walk, electrical conductors in the cap allow the user’s brain to send electrical impulses to the computer worn in a backpack; the computer, in turn, converts the electrical impulses to movement. (The identity of the individual who will wear the suit on Thursday has not been revealed.)

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The suit’s concept came to Nicolelis in 2002 when scientists began to research robotic exoskeletons. After learning seven years later that Brazil would be hosting the World Cup, he suggested the project as a way of showing that there is more to Brazil than soccer and samba. “Brazil is investing and has human potential to do things beyond football,” he said.

Critics question the practicality of Nicolelis’s work and claim that he has been given control of too great a portion of the Brazilian government's research budget. Nicolelis has received $14 million over the last two years. He argues that the funding from the government would remain the same even if the technology were not being used for the World Cup demonstration. “That's approximately four or five times less than what the United States government invests in a mechanical arm," he said.

See below for Reuters' illustration of how the device works.

Irene Chidinma Nwoye is a writer and former Slate intern in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.

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