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Assistive technology

Cybathlon event combines innovation and competition

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Cutting-edge assistive technologies were put to the test in terms of their ability to help users navigate the tasks and challenges of daily life. (Keystone)

Cutting-edge assistive technologies were put to the test in terms of their ability to help users navigate the tasks and challenges of daily life.


On Saturday, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETH Zurich organised the world’s first Cybathlon Championship for Athletes with Disabilities, which sees participants compete against each other using the latest assistive technologies.

Sixty-six teams from 25 countries participated in the sold-out event, which was held at the SWISS Arena in Kloten, canton Zurich. About 4,600 visitors attended.

Unlike the Paralympics, which focus on athletic performance, the Cybathlon events were designed to identify and showcase the best assistive technologies – such as arm and leg prostheses, robotic exoskeletons, powered wheelchairs, and even brain-machine interfaces – in terms of their ability to help users navigate the tasks and challenges of daily life.

The Cybathlon events were held in six categories: the Brain-Computer Interface Race, the Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) Bike Race, the Powered Arm Prosthesis Race, the Powered Leg Prosthesis Race, the Powered Exoskeleton Race, and the Powered Wheelchair Race.

Switzerland entered seven teams in all, and by Saturday evening, two Swiss teams were featured in first place in the final results: the "Brain Tweakers" team from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) won the Brain-Computer Interface category, and the "HSR Enhanced" team from the University of Applied Sciences Rapperswil won the Powered Wheelchair category. The full list of results by discipline can be found on the Cybathlon website.

“People with a physical disability that restricts daily life – these are the real winners of the Cybathlon. And as we have seen today, great things can be achieved when their needs directly influence the development of new assistive technology," said Robert Riener, Cybathlon initiator and ETH Zurich professor for sensory-motor systems, in a statement issued by the institute on Saturday evening. 

The Cybathlon programme also included a scientific symposium and round table discussion for specialists in bionic prosthesis research on Thursday, as well as a programme for school-age students on Friday. A second event is already being planned for 2020.

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