Ready for Action
Athletes come in all shapes and sizes. Playing any sport involves working with the limitations of one's own body. Next year, competitors who use assistive technology will have a tournament of their own.
This event aims to spur innovation in things such as high-tech arm and leg prosthetics, and wheelchairs.
The Cybathlon will be held in Zurich next Fall. A rehearsal took place one year in advance. Thirty teams from fifteen countries participated. Reporters from around the world covered the event.
Unlike typical sports contests, both athletes and the developers of their equipment will win medals at the Cybathlon. So, the competitors include manufacturers and academic researchers.
A powerful motor moves a leg prosthesis with a computer controlling the steps.
Another device provides mobility to paraplegics, with their own legs.
A Swedish team developed a prosthetic hand. It conducts electronic signals from the brain, allowing the user to move the hand at will. Once the user has become accustomed to it, the device can hold both heavy and delicate objects.
By incorporating the latest technology, manufacturers of assistive devices are transforming their industry and the lives of their customers.
A Japanese research team that attended the rehearsal is involved with robotics.
Masahiro Kasuya, of the University of Electro-Communications, includes state-of-the-art sensors in the prosthetic hands his group makes.
All of the joints in the fingers can move, creating the ability to perform intricate tasks. The sensors stuck to the arm play an important role.
They perceive electrical currents in the muscles when a person wants to move the hand and pass the command on to put the prosthesis into action.
Precision became possible once Kasuya had developed a program that could detect subtle distinctions between signals. A person trying it for the first time found a familiar feeling.
"I was able move all my fingers for the first time since I lost them," the person said. "I feel like my old self. This is the way things used to be."
Kasuya says he draws inspiration from Japanese science-fiction anime. He's long dreamed of seeing a real cyborg one day.
Like a film director, he refuses to be limited by conventional wisdom. One of his ideas is to make a pair of hands that can be operated by movements of the mouth or face.
"Traditionally, prosthetics and similar types of technology have been made to assist human functions," Kasuya said. "But I'd like to see a new system of values created and expanded upon, by combining humans and machines."
The Cybathlon will be held in October of 2016. More than 50 teams will participate. The winners will include people everywhere who can benefit from the breakthroughs in technology.