Even non-football fans like myself can’t help but be aware that one of the great events of the sporting calendar is about to kick off in Brazil. I’m led to believe that, possibly for the first time ever, the English football fraternity is taking a realistic view of our team’s chances. Not only is there little prospect of us winning, but my ‘local experts’ advice is that we are unlikely to survive round one, with the likes of Italy and Uruguay standing in our way. We know what we need to do, but whether we can do it, is another matter altogether. In true English fashion, this won’t stop us hoping our team of young stars can do the seemingly impossible.
So with our team needing all the mental strength they can muster, they may be advised to try and draw inspiration from a particular moment planned as part of the opening ceremony. Rumour has it that on June 12, shortly before the start of the opening game between Brazil and Croatia, a paralysed teenager will enter the stadium wearing a mind controlled exoskeleton suit and will kick the first ball of the World Cup 2014. At that moment, hundreds of millions of people around the world will bear witness to the power of technology to change peoples’ lives for the better and in a very significant way. Now, even if you don’t like football, this sounds like a piece of history that’s well worth tuning in for.
According to the BBC, the exoskeleton is a robotic suit, built from lightweight alloys and powered by hydraulics. When a paraplegic person straps themselves in, the technology does the job that their leg muscles no longer can. The project, appropriately known as Walk Again, has been the focus of an international team of scientists for many years. The University of Munich led the robotics work, French researchers built the exoskeleton and Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian neuroengineer focused on ways to read people’s brain waves and use those signals to control robotic limbs. The outcome is a scenario where people who thought they may never walk again, may now be able to do so.
When was the last time you looked at a piece of new tech and thought wow, that’s truly fantastic and will have a huge and positive impact on the world? A neurologically controlled exoskeleton certainly ticks that box for me. With the constant flow of IT developments and version updates and upgrades to our existing technical crutches, it’s as if no one is surprised by technology these days. It almost seems that we have become anesthetised to its steady development. Perhaps partly because we are so close to the tech or perhaps the incremental developments are designed to make us feel that way. It’s only when you look over your shoulder at the past 10 years or so that you get a view of how far we’ve come in such a short time and just how much technology has changed our lives.
Like most great innovations, the success of a team is rooted in the strengths and competencies of the individuals, their vision and their dedication to endeavour. I’m sure our team will do us proud whatever the outcome, win or lose. But it looks like an extraordinary team of brilliant technologists are about to give us an amazing example of what can happen when teamwork and technology come together. Whether it be a gentle 10 inch roll from the centre spot or a 20 yard swerving free kick from just outside the box (whatever that is), this first kick will be an absolute triumph.
If this is an example of our future and the effect technology will have to our lives – bring it on.