Six disciplines with “assistive technologies” and no, we aren’t talking Performing Enhancing Drugs here, we’re talking, among other things, new-fangled prostheses, that are boosting the abilities of people with disabilities – will be exhibited. This Cyborgville of scientific skill and human will, will vaunt and vault, technology and techniques, the latter used by the subjects, humans...the “pilots” who, however, know - that while they are clearly more than props - realize, just as definitely – they are NOT - co-stars.
Here are the six disciplines.
Brain-Computer Interface Race (BCI); Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) Bike Race; Powered Arm Prosthesis Race; Powered Leg Prosthesis Race; Powered Exoskeleton Race; Powered Wheelchair Race.
Why would powered wheelchairs be part of this? Aren’t we then talking motorized sports – that deal mostly with driving abilities, given that the power, stamina, and speed will be technological, not physical?
Went skeptical way too soon: who would not want to watch “athletes...tackle flights of stairs in the new wheel chairs...”
Will rubber tracks, mounted below the wheelchair wheels, take front and centre, and a well deserved bow - - - or will starfish mounts that are hand powered - once the wheel chair operator pops a wheelie to put the starfish as the surface contact point - be the recipient of applause - or will new approaches wrestling with stairs...take the cheering?
Reading of the Powered Arm Prosthesis Race and one of its entrants, Claudia Breidbach, being born without a left arm - and reading of the complexities involved in copying, at least on a fairly fundamental scope, the human hand, which apparently is, according to Monica Moreo a team leader of a competitor, DIPO Power - the MOST COMPLEX HUMAN ORGAN, leaves the laymen speechless, respectful, and wanting to learn more about the fields of biomechatronics. For instance, Monica avers that body-powered (as contrasted to externally powered) prosthetics could be affordable and within, no pun intended, the reach of many - as a source and a solution - to ramping up dexterity and galvanizing lifestyle self-reliance.
Notwithstanding Monica’s dedication to produce enhancements for the many, will this Cybathlon Championship - though impressive on intellectual, physical, emotional, and possibly spiritual levels - be stillborn, be nothing more than an haute couture display of largely unaffordable aids, or will it morph and become the mainstream runway of many, who will be able to avail themselves of such useful - and possibly one day affordable - technical changes and advancements?
Listen. Who, indeed, right now, can afford these technologies? Will any health care plans, in the States, or Canada, for example, be able to provide help in dollars?
For sure, these games will encourage. They might also discourage, or at least puzzle - maybe piss off - people who would love either themselves, or loved ones, to have increased mobility and improved communicative and rehabilitative possibilities - but can’t see through the financial barriers blocking the way(s).
And are there moral and ethical issues involved with improved assistive technology breakthroughs? Will some who get the best technologies be deemed “OK” and be treated as “normal” - thus ignored by family, friends, or professionals tired of pitching in and helping out? Might their non-disabled strengths and abilities be completely forgotten, or certainly overlooked, by themselves and their inner circle because of these super-duper deliverables? Will technologies be foisted on demented patients? Will the privacy of the patient or person, be threatened by technologies such as Telecare Devices, or be hacked by weirdos, wingnuts, savants, or miscreants drilling in to computer-data-sharing systems and services? We all know personal data for “normal folks” has been maliciously released. And, ironically, could some aids, in fact, reduce independence for people that don’t really need them? And how steep is the learning curve for recipients? Will they blow a gasket in the learning of all?
OK. While only the athletes will be in direct competition, their estimated 300 researchers, neuro-scientists, designers, biomedical-engineers, and kinesiology experts will be in it for bragging rights!
Zurich, Switzerland will host 80 teams from 25 countries, starting October 8th.
Robert Riener, a Swiss native, is the founder and one of the intellectual impetuses behind the Cybathlon - and while he has published some 389 papers – the industry - - - TOTALLY - of the so-called brainiest, including Robert, MUST COME UP, with sexier titles to attract the masses. Here is a conference paper title Robert and four co-authors came up with. Let’s hope it was arrived at late at night, around the kitchen table, with libations surrounding:
Evaluation of a mixed controller that amplifies spatial errors while reducing timing errors
This is not to say that Riener and confreres aren’t what they’re worth, they are. Kudos, thus, to Robert for rising above his titling of treatises to igniting and inciting this SWISS Cybathlon of athletes and academics, this Cyborg “Man and Machine competition alight - to become to us - as a human ONE.