The Cybathlon: A New Competition to Benchmark Assistive Technology for the Disabled

Monday, February 15, 2016: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
Marriott Balcony A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Robert Riener, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
Each year millions of people worldwide need assistive and prosthetic devices to master their lives. Unfortunately, current technology is not ideal: wheelchairs cannot climb stairs and orthoses and prostheses lack acceptance due to bulkiness and limitations in function. There is a need to push the development of such devices by pooling the efforts of engineers and medical scientist working closely with patients. Cybathlon, a series of Olympic-style competitions offers a new approach to advancing assistive devices. It is a championship for athletes with physical disabilities who are using advanced assistive devices including robotic technologies. The athletes compete in teams with scientists and technology providers making the Cybathlon also a competition of companies and laboratories. It includes different disciplines that allow the application of most functional and novel assistive devices that can be prototypes developed by companies or research labs or commercially available products, and will be applied on race tracks designed along daily life challenges. Athletes with complete spinal cord injuries will compete in a bike race with functional electric stimulation devices assisting them to perform pedaling movements. Amputees fitted with actuated exoprosthetic devices and complete spinal cord injury patients with actuated exoskeletons will race in a short obstacle course containing daily life tasks, and actuated exoprosthetic hands and arms will be used to complete a coordination skill task. In the powered wheelchair race pilots will steer around an obstacle course. Brain computer interfaces will be used by pilots to control avatars in a racing game on a computer screen. There are two medals awarded for each discipline, one for the pilot, who is controlling the device, and one for the provider of the device, i.e. the company or the lab. The main goal of the Cybathlon is to provide a platform to the larger public that presents and benchmarks novel assistive technologies facilitating daily life of people with disabilities or physical weaknesses. The Cybathlon wants to encourage the exchange between people with disabilities, the general public and the research and development world and increase the acceptance of assistive devices across different cultures. In the long run, the developed devices should become affordable and functional for the most important activities in daily life.