NEWS
06/12/2014 01:04 EDT | Updated 08/12/2014 05:59 EDT

Mind-controlled exoskeleton kicks off World Cup

A young man whose legs are paralyzed will be the first person to kick a soccer ball at the World Cup in Brazil today.

During the opening ceremonies of the World Cup, which start at 3:15 p.m. in Brazil (2:15 p.m. ET), eight paraplegics wearing robotic exoskeletons will walk onto the field, by controlling the technology with their brain waves. One of the eight will be chosen to make the first ceremonial kick 

The technology was developed by the Walk Again Project, a non-profit, international collaboration of more than 150 scientists and rehabilitation professionals led by Miguel Nicolelis at Duke University in Durham, N.C.

It is designed for people who have lost their ability to send signals from their brain to their legs due to a spinal cord injury. Instead, the patients wear a headpiece that detects brain waves and sends them to the robot suit, allowing the user to control it with his or her mind.

The eight patients taking part in the World Cup opening ceremonies were selected and trained by Dr. Lumy Sawaki at the University of Kentucky, lead clinician for the project. 

"When I see a patient and the exoskeleton, and all the time that it took to be trained and you see their faces, I have no words to describe that," Sawaki said in a statement. "I think all clinicians want to be a doctor to cure the patients. This is not a cure, but it is a big hope for them."

In a video posted by the University of Kentucky, Sawaki said researchers are working to make the technology more practical for everyday life and to bring down the cost so it will be available to more people in the future.