It had to happen sooner or later. Since traditional sports are reluctant to accept athletes with prosthetic augmentation, the ground is fertile and the time is ripe for the debut of the Cybathlon, described by its promoters as “a championship for racing pilots with disabilities (i.e., parathletes) who are using advanced assistive devices including robotic technologies.”
The inaugural event will be held 2016 in Zürich, Switzerland, in the Kolping Arena.
Similar to other forms of technology-based competition such as auto and sailboat racing, the event will feature competitions in various classes, such as powered knee prostheses, wearable arm prostheses, powered exoskeletons, powered wheelchairs, electrically stimulated muscles and novel brain-computer interfaces.
The planned events will include:
- Brain Computer Interface Race
- Functional Electrical Stimulation Bike Race
- Powered Leg Prosthetics Race
- Powered Exoskeleton Race
- Powered Wheelchair Race
- Powered Arm Prosthetics Race
One novel twist is that there will be two medals for each event – one for the pilot diving the device, the other for the maker of the assistive technology. The devices can be either commercially available prosthetics or one-off prototypes straight out of a research lab. While the event is still in the planning stages, we might suggest a segmentation in at least some of the events, dividing commercially available devices from research lab prototypes.
One can see how this could catch the imaginations of researchers and lead to the formation of teams to develop the best and most capable devices. Just as it happened in auto racing, developers' and manufacturers' desires to prove their technologies could lead to advancements in the state of the art that benefit everyone, not just those with disabilities.
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The event is being organized by the University of Switzerland’s Robert Riener in conjunction with the Swiss National Competence Center of Research in Robotics (NCCR Robotics).”
“The main goal of the Cybathlon,” the Cybathlon website avers, “is to provide a platform for the development of novel assistive technologies that are useful for daily life. Through the organization of the Cybathlon we want to help [in] removing barriers between the public, people with disabilities and science.”Stephen Levy is a contributor to Qmed and MPMN.