Something nicknamed "the cyborg olympics" may sound right at home in a science-fiction yarn, but this is real, and it has everything to do with advancing research to help those with physical disabilities.
This fall, on the heels of the Olympics and Paralympic Games, Switzerland will host the world's first Cybathlon. The event will feature individuals with physical disabilities competing in six different disciplines, while also offering a venue for researchers and developers to showcase the latest in assistive bionics. About 80 teams are expected to compete, with major television networks like the BBC and Japan NHK covering it.
"I expect the Cybathlon to become the event in assistive and rehabilitation technology, where technology is helping patients to achieve great results both in the competition itself but also beyond the event," Gery Colombo, president of IISART, an organization dedicated to modern healthcare technology, said in an interview. "The Cybathlon offers a huge potential to trigger new life changing developments."
You can learn more about the event, described in the video below as "when humans and robots team up."
While the Paralympics ban motorized equipment, the Cybathlon embraces them, giving competitors challenges that, as Eliza Strickland of Spectrum IEEE so beautifully describes, "celebrate the strength and ingenuity of human-machine collaborations."
Events include the "Powered Arm Prosthesis Race" (in which athletes must pour a cup of coffee or slice a loaf of bread), the "Powered Exoskeleton Race" (climbing stairs, navigating obstacles), and the "Brain-Computer Interface Race" (in which athletes must control a computer avatar over various obstacles via brain-controlled impulses, as described in the video below.)
Beyond the competitive elements, Cybathlon is a massive opportunity to bring together researchers, developers and investors from around the world to help advance assistive technologies.
"The event should motivate engineers, users and maybe even people in the audience to come up with ideas that can increase quality of life of people with disabilities," said sports director Roland Sigrist. "In the long run, I hope that the event helps to make assistive devices affordable for everybody that needs them and wants to use them!"
The 2016 Cybathlon will commence on Oct. 6.