Four years after its world premiere, the second edition of the Cybathlon finished on Sunday. Cybathlon is a competition in which people with physical disabilities compete against each other to completeeveryday tasks using state-of-the-art technical assistance systems.The weekend was not only a thrilling showdown for the pilots, but also for spectators around the globe and everyone involved in organising the Cybathlon.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the pilots participated in the competition in a specially designed “lockdown mode” in their respective home countries. Official Cybathlon referees were on site to enforce the rules and judge the attempts at all race venues around the world.
Each competitor had three hours in which to make three attempts at an obstacle course, with the best attempt counting towards their result. Race results and winners were not revealed – even to the teams themselves – before the Cybathlon organizers streamed the races in the live event held yesterday and today.
The Cybathlon consists of six disciplines for humans and their machines: a virtual race with mind-controlled tasks, a bike race with electronic muscle stimulation, and obstacle courses for those racing with arm prostheses, leg prostheses, robotic exoskeletons and motorised wheelchairs.
Between five and 13 teams competed for the win in each discipline. Switzerland sent a total of ten teams to the competition among them teams from universities but also several start-ups such as Project Circleg, Twiice and Scewo.
Project Circleg and their pilot André Frei won in the Powered Leg Prosthesis Race (LEG) category. Project Circleg began in 2018 as a study project for industrial design at the Zurich University of the Arts and is now an award-winning start-up. Their prosthesis is made from recycled plastic waste and is expected to offer a cost-effective solution for people in developing countries in the future, enabling them to live a life with self-determined mobility despite leg amputation.
Pilot André Frei, who had to have his right leg amputated above the knee after a scooter accident when he was 18, explains "The prosthesis is a bit like the a racecar, it's all about the technology, fine tuning and nuances. It's exciting to work at Circleg, we are a young team enjoying a relaxed atmosphere. We break new ground and leave the usual prosthesis environment and its approaches behind.”
Improving assistive technologies
Roland Sigrist, the Cybathlon’s Executive Director, believes one factor of the competition is particularly important: “The teams are not only competing to win the Cybathlon, they’re also helping to improve assistive technologies for people with disabilities.” The Cybathlon was started by ETH Zurich with the aim of placing people at the center when developing assistive technologies. The competition provides a forum in which people with physical disabilities, technology developers, and the public can interact. Cybathlon not only raises awareness, but also stimulates global synergies to further the current state of technology and promote inclusion.
Looking ahead, Roland Sigrist notes: “ETH Zurich has decided to host the next Cybathlon in Switzerland. The organising committee will discuss the experience of this Cybathlon 2020 Global Edition, and consider how the innovations and ideas from this format might be incorporated in the years to come, particularly in 2024.” Sigrist says that the format for Cybathlon 2024 will ultimately depend on the current circumstances at the time.
(Press release / SK)
Picture: André Frei, Team Circleg. (ETH Zurich / Cybathlon. Photographer: Alessandro Della Bella)