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On the ball: CSU involved in miraculous opening of 2014 FIFA World Cup

June 10, 2014
Kortny Rolston

Something miraculous will occur Thursday, June 12 before the opening game of the 2014 FIFA World Cup - and Colorado State University had a role in making it happen.

Clad in a mechanical bodysuit, a paralyzed Brazilian will stand, walk up to a soccer ball and kick it, aided only by the prosthetic exoskeleton that he controls with his brain waves.

If successful, the live demonstration, known as the Walk Again Project, will mark the first time a paralyzed person walks on his own using a device he directs.

The event will take place during the 25-minute opening ceremony, which starts at 12:15 p.m. MST on Thursday on ESPN.

CSU's role

CSU’s Idea-2-Product 3D printing laboratory developed a protective liner that has been used during the training of the paralyzed participants and also will be worn on the day of the event.

The liner fits between the electrode cap, which sits precisely on a patient’s head over the regions of the brain that dictate movement, and a safety helmet. The electrodes detect brain signals and transmit the message to the exoskeleton.  If the cap moves, the electrodes can miss the correct brain signals.

“It’s important those electrodes stay in place and we also need to protect the patient,” said Alan Rudolph, CSU’s vice president of research and project manager of the Walk Again demonstration.

CSU researchers developed the custom, 3D printed liner and custom parts using scans of the patient’s head and input from the Walk Again research team. They spent months designing the soft, flexible liner - which is printed from a rubber-like polymer – so it would provide easy access to the electrodes and also could be easily adjusted.

“We designed the liner from scratch using precise 3D scans of the patient and the helmet,” said David Prawel, director of CSU’s public-access Idea-2-Product Laboratory.

The CSU team also developed custom brackets that mount LED sensors on the helmet to provide feedback to the patient on how well he is controlling the exoskeleton.

Going forward

Rudolph hopes the Walk Again project spawns greater interest in neurotechnology and neuroengineering research at CSU and in the region.

He believes this rapidly growing field aligns with areas of research in which CSU is already strong, including occupational therapy, exercise physiology, neuroscience, biomedical engineering and rehabilitative medicine.

“I look at this as an area where CSU can have a real impact,” Rudolph said.