A flagship project of ETH Zürich, CYBATHLON is an initiative that brings together education, research, outreach and technology transfer in the field of assistive technology. Through a variety of international competitions and events, teams from universities, companies and NGOs complete everyday tasks using technology developed to help those with disabilities.
Each team of developers and their ‘pilot’ - a person with disabilities who will use the assistive technology - compete in races across a range of disciplines, including brain-computer interfaces, arm/leg prostheses, exoskeletons, assistance robots and wheelchairs. The examples below illustrate the conditions and tasks the technologies are challenged with:
- Brain-Computer Interfaces
The brain-computer interfaces (BCI) race uses cutting-edge technology to enable direct communication between the human brain and a computer. BCI detect specific activation patterns in the brain and translates them into control signals suitable for interacting with computer-based processes. This can be particularly effective for assisting those with tetraplegia or locked-in syndrome (people living with paralysis of numerous muscles of the body) with carrying out daily activities independently. In CYBATHLON 2024, the competition tasks will require teams to use BCI to generate and control multiple commands to drive a vehicle in an animated scenario, both as a planned activity and in response to environmental changes.
- Robotic Exoskeletons
The challenges for robotic exoskeletons lie in their limited ability to adapt their movement patterns to situations and also the time-consuming procedures for fitting them to the person and later removing them. Despite this, exoskeletons offer other advantages, including enabling an upright posture and gait for paraplegic users (which counteracts some of the problems associated with long-term wheelchair use) and being able to communicate with peers at eye level while standing. The tasks in CYBATHLON 2024 emphasise variability and uncertainty about the exact structure or arrangement of the various objects. As well as using the exoskeleton without crutches, pilots will also be tested on overall body balance and reaction to dynamic elements.
32 teams have already registered for next year’s events and ETH is keen to encourage applications from teams based at IARU universities for the 2024 edition. At their meeting in Zürich in January 2023, the IARU Presidents endorsed this idea and so the Secretariat would be grateful if you could publicise the project to any interested groups in your institution.
More information about CYBATHLON 2024 can be found on the project website.