Cyborgs in arms race.
July 22, 2021 1:24 AM   Subscribe

Cybathlon is an international multi-sport competition that pairs disabled athletes with teams of scientists, engineers and researchers, inspired by the long-term goal of making everyday life more accessible for disabled people.

The mismatch between developments in assistive technology users’ needs inspired the competition, which aims to drive forward research on assistance systems for everyday use by encouraging close collaboration between people with disabilities and technology developers as the device is worked on. The resulting competition is nail-biting and mind-boggling.

Athletes — termed pilots — and their teams compete in six disciplines:

The Powered Arm Prothesis Race turns everyday tasks into competitive sport as pilots prepare food, get dressed and use a credit card using a prosthetic arm alone or in combination with the rest of their body.

Perhaps the most futuristic, the Brain-Computer Interface Race sees pilots use brain signals to control avatars as they race around a virtual course. On Functional Electrical Stimulation Bikes, pilots with spinal cord injuries race each other.

The Powered Leg Prothesis Race, Powered Exoskeleton Race and Powered Wheelchair Race focus on getting around, sometimes carrying everyday objects, as the pilot negotiates furniture, uneven terrain, slopes and stairs.

The inaugral Cybathlon took place in 2016. The 2020 event was originally planned for May of that year, hosted once again at organisers ETH Zürich. In light of COVID and in a neat mirror of the adaptability and use of technology by the competitors, the organisers rapidly planned — and pulled off — a distributed, global event which took place in November. Here’s how they did it. Elements of the required physical infrastructure were shipped to each team, who constructed courses on the ground to exacting specifications. An official oversaw each race, which took place asynchronously due to time zone differences. A TV crew produced a live feed of each day, before stitching together footage of each race and adding the exciting commentary, giving viewers the illusion of a real-time nail-biting final.

The everyday nature of many of the tasks is brought home by the fact that where possible items used in the competition were sourced from IKEA.
posted by Erinaceus europaeus (6 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
That's very cool. I love the idea of the competition. And it's very cool seeing the different solutions pilots and teams come up with for some of the challenges. Bumpy surface for a wheelchair? You can break out the caterpillar treads, or you can just blast across on your wheels, bouncing all over the place. Going down stairs with an exoskeleton? Facing forward for some, backward for others.

I love this. Thanks for posting it!
posted by whatnotever at 12:25 PM on July 22, 2021

Agree, this was really fascinating and impressive all around.
posted by senor biggles at 1:51 PM on July 22, 2021

The powered exoskeleton race was riviting.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:01 PM on July 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Holy moly, this is amazing! Thank you, Erinaceus europaeus!
posted by mpark at 11:14 PM on July 22, 2021

This was wonderful. Thanks for sharing it.
posted by BekahVee at 10:24 AM on July 23, 2021

It occurs to me that my comment above might sound like a joke. It wasn’t. The rigs that were used seemed very similar in basic design (I mean, there are only so many ways you can make assistive devices for legs, right?), but the pilots approached the challenges in different ways with different overall strategies. It was very interesting to watch.

There’s a lot of content here, but the individual videos are only about ~10 minutes, so it’s easy to sample a few.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:18 PM on July 23, 2021

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