The very first Cybathalon, also referred to as the Bionic Olympics, will take place in Switzerland in October 2016.
This event will be for bionic athletes, including paraplegics, using human performance-enhancing technology. The Cybathalon will include a race for paraplegics where competitors will control an avatar via a brain interface. While this seems like the work of science fiction, similar technology recently made an appearance in the 2013 film Ender's Game, based on the 1985 novel by Orson Scott Card, the brain-computer interface is the real deal. This interface is designed for those who are paralyzed from the neck down and users will wear a headset that connects to the computer to control their avatar. In addition to the brain-computer interface races, there will be races held for competitors wearing prosthetic limbs, those using wheelchairs, and even some races where competitors will wear exoskeletons. These assistive devices will be worn by the athletes, known as pilots. There will be two medals for each competition: one for the pilot and one for the company that developed the device.
The Cybathalon will be hosted by the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research. It is hoped that the event will spark additional interest in assistive devices. "The idea is that we want to push development of assistive technologies towards devices that patients can really use in everyday life," explained Professor Robert Reiner, event organizer, from the University of Switzerland, to the BBC. "Some of the current technologies look very fancy but are a long way from being practical and user-friendly." With further research, this gap between patients and technology could be closed, making the assistive technology practical and easy to use. The Bionic Olympics will allow technology that would be excluded from other events, such as the Paralympics, giving it a stage to connect patients, society, and the technology community.
Photo credit: screengrab