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Watch the Highlights of the Most Futuristic Version of the Olympics

The Cybathlon is where athletes with disabilities use robotics to compete.

by Madison Margolin
Dec 21 2016, 2:00pm

Image: ETH Zurich / Alessandro Della Bella

Watch these videos if you want to be inspired. Not even being paralyzed has stopped these folks from racing. A series of clips from IEEE Spectrum posted on YouTube this week features highlights of the Cybathlon 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland, a championship for athletes with disabilities, who use a variety of robotic tools and cybernetic interfaces to compete.

Professor Robert Riener from ETH Zurich, a science, technology, and mathematical university, and NCCR (National Centre of Competence in Research) Robotics came up with the idea for the Cybathlon, and in October 2016, held the first international competition. The goal was to foster conversation among academia, developers in the tech industry, and people with disabilities, in order general usage of robotic assistive aids for those who need them to get around.

Various kinds of disciplines are included in the Cybathlon competitions: brain-computer interface (BCI) race, functional electrical stimulation (FES) bike race, powered arm prosthesis race, powered leg prosthesis race, powered exoskeleton race, and powered wheelchair race. While some of these disciplines are self-explanatory others less so. During the BCI race, pilots use brain computer interfaces on top of the competitor's head to control avatars in a computer game.

In the FES bike race, competitors with paraplegia artificially "pedal" by stimulating motor nerves to cause muscle contraction.

Sometimes called the "Bionic Olympics" or the "Cyborg Olympics", the Cybathlon helps people with disabilities build the skills to navigate difficult courses, which ultimately helps them navigate in the real world, as well. By exercising their muscles and using artificial stimulation in areas where they don't the capacity to flex on their own, the competitors in the Cybathlon occupy the crossroads between athleticism, technological research, and biotech.

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