Cybathlon: the competition that tests equipment adapted to physical disability

Publié le 20 Sep, 2016

A Cybathlon will take place in Zurich, Switzerland, on 8 October.

The initiative is based on fact: in the United States, more than 1.6 million people have undergone amputation and the WHO estimates that there are almost 65 million wheelchair users worldwide. On a daily basis, the technologies that should be assisting the disabled are not fully fit for purpose. The main criticism is levelled at the design of various devices since more attention is often paid to appearance rather than to meeting individual user requirements. Furthermore, adapted equipment is expensive and this in itself is discouraging.


In order to boost innovation in this area, Robert Riener, a Professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, is proposing a new type of competition – the Cybathlon – which aims to promote the development of useful technologies.


At the Paralympic Games, athletes seek maximum performance in a sporting challenge. At the Cybathlon, physically disabled people will compete against each other by performing routine daily tasks. They will be assisted by technologically advanced devices, essentially robots.


These games will not only test the capacity of the human athletes performing the tests, but also the capacity of the equipment used, which will increase their mobility. Once again, organisers will be looking for symbiosis of the two aspects – striking a balance between good technical performance and the athlete’s ability to master it.


Six disciplines are scheduled for inclusion: electric leg prostheses, electric arm prostheses, electrical functional stimulation to drive motors, electric wheelchairs and electrical exoskeletons. The sixth competition includes the use of virtual avatars controlled by brain/computer interfaces.


Each team will comprise a leader, scientists and technology suppliers, thereby extending the element of competition to companies and research laboratories.


Unlike the paralympic games, the leaders can use any type of technique provided that they are not at risk. These games should also enable the more seriously disabled to take part in competitions. The aim is not to be the fastest or the strongest but to be the most competent person using these advanced technologies to overcome the challenges of everyday life.

The conversation (Robert Reiner) 01/09/2016

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