While working as a professor in the sensory-motor systems lab at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Robert Riener noticed a need for assistive devices that would better meet the challenge of helping people with daily life.Riener created Cybathlon, the first cyborg Olympics where teams from all over the world will participate in races on Oct. 8 in Zurich that will test how well their devices perform routine tasks. Teams will compete in six different categories that will push their assistive devices to the limit on courses developed carefully over three years by physicians, developers and the people who use the technology. Riener wants the event to emphasize how important it is for man and machine to work together-so participants will be called pilots rather than athletes, reflecting the role of the assistive technology.
“The goal is to push the development in the direction of technology that is capable of performing day-to-day tasks. And that way, there will an improvement in the future life of the person using the device,” says Riener.
Here’s a look at events that will be featured in the first cyborg Olympics.The winner will be the first to complete the race, maneuvering an avatar over obstacles and accelerating to the finish line.
At Cybathlon, paralyzed bike racers will rely on FES to complete about five laps around a racetrack, equalling about 2,200 feet – first to the finish wins. A prosthetic hand created by the M.A.S.S. Impact team from Simon Fraser University in Canada is a unique design that uses sensors and algorithms to recognize a grip pattern, and users can control the bionic hand in small, precise movements.
Last year, organizers held a Cybathlon rehearsal last year, and Riener was especially impressed by OPRA Osseointegratio, a Swedish team that designed a surgically implanted hand controlled by a person voluntarily contracting his muscles.The technology is currently in human trials, and the team’s pilot is the first recipient. Riener hopes to see prosthetic legs at the Cybathlon that can handle uneven terrain, which has been a challenge in the past. The team is also entering a powered leg prosthesis that is an upgrade to the powered knee and is still a prototype stage; it uses motorized joints to help achieve a natural gait.
“At Cybathlon, they will have to fit beneath a table, go up a steep ramp, open a door and then close it again, and go down a steep ramp,” says Riener.
Scewo, a team from ETH Zurich developed a wheelchair that balances on two wheels like a Segway and can use a chain to climb up stairs or steep ramps.