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Cybathlon: symbiotic automous systems competing for gold

Gold Medalist at Cybathlon 2016 in Zurich: Numa Poujouly took top honors in the Cybathlon’s brain-computer interface race. Photo credit: Nicolas Brodard

Brain Computer Interfaces and interfaces between muscles and computers have reached the stage of usability for patients. Although a lot of research is still needed, and a lot is going on, several patients disabled by various trauma or diseases are now able to augment their functionalities reaching in several cases a good level of autonomy.
To test the capabilities of these systems and to further stimulate researchers through competition ETH Zurich has launched Cybathlon. The first event was held in Zurich in 2016 hosting competition in six areas:

  • Brain Computer Interface race, with participants using BCI to control an avatar;
  • FES, Functional Electrical Stimulation Bike race, with paraplegic participants riding bikes. To pedal they have their muscle stimulated artificially;
  • Powered Arms Prosthesis race, with participants with one or both arms amputated below the elbow controlling a prosthetic arm;
  • Powered Leg Prosthesis race, with participants having to take precise steps to navigate through obstacles;
  • Powered Exoskeleton race, with participants with complete paraplegia have to complete everyday tasks, including sitting and climbing stairs;
  • Powered Wheelchairs race, with paralysed participants negotiating a track encumbered with every day obstacles.

By looking at the clip (see below) one can really appreciate the progress being made in this field and how symbiotic autonomous systems are becoming important players in our Society.  There will be focussed Cybathlon in 2018 and 2019 in several locations around the world and a full Cybathlon in Zurich in March 2020. We can expect significant progress in the coming years.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. He's currently the Chair of the Symbiotic Autonomous Systems Initiative of IEEE-FDC. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and up to September 2018 he was the Head of the EIT Digital Industrial Doctoral School. Previously, up to December 2011, he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books. He writes a daily blog,  http://sites.ieee.org/futuredirections/category/blog/, with commentary on innovation in various technology and market areas.

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