As we all know, 2014 is going to be the year when, for the very first time, a paralyzed person wearing a mind-controlled exoskeleton will perform the ceremonial kick-off of a traditional football event, namely the World Cup in Brazil.
Meanwhile, in Switzerland, researchers are already working on the next generation of para-sport events: the Cybathlon, a special racing championship for disabled athletes with technology aids, such as exoskeletons, robotic assistive devices, brain-computer interfaces and a broad array of other technology marvels.
On 8th October 2016 Zurich in Switzerland will host the Cybathlon, a sort of Paralympics games for athletes with disabilities (i.e. parathletes) who are using advanced assistive devices.
Teams will be consisting of one or more drivers, called ‘pilots’ and a technology provider (academia or industry) to compete in one of the following six disciplines:
- BCI Race (Brain-Computer Interface)
- FES Bike Race (Functional Electrical Stimulation)
- Leg Prosthetics Race
- Powered Exoskeleton Race
- Powered Wheelchair Race
- Arm Prosthetics Race
According to the Cybathlon website, the six disciplines will apply the latest prosthetic technologies including electrically stimulated muscles, novel brain-computer interfaces, modern electrical powered knee prostheses, wearable arm prostheses, powered exoskeletons, and powered wheelchairs.
The assistive devices can include commercially available products provided by companies, but also prototypes developed by research labs.
There will be two medals for each competition, one for the pilot, who is driving the device, and one for the provider of the device.
Brain-Computer Interface Race
Since here at Neurogadget we mainly focus on brain-computer intefaces, let us go a bit more into the details of the BCI Race.
As described on the event website, pilots participating in the BCI Race will be equipped with brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) that will enable them to control an avatar in a racing game played on computers. The planned duration of the race is about 5-10 min, which sounds a bit long to us, knowing that mind-games can be very-very exhausting.
The game will be either horse racing or car racing. The image will be displayed on large screens in the stadium, and special visual and auditory effects will be used to make the game exciting not just for the pilots but also for the audience.
[accordion title=’More about the BCI Race game – click the + sign on the left to open’]
Avatars will have their own base velocity even in the absence of BCI input; this is to ensure that teams will not get stuck at the start. Avatars will race along a track with obstacles such as trenches, rocks, low walls, bushes etc. Hitting an obstacle will cause the avatar to slow down temporarily. There will be power-ups such as food or gasoline cans that will temporarily speed up the avatar. The primary BCI input signal will be left/right steering, which will allow obstacles to be avoided and power-ups to be picked up. This input will most likely be discrete. For example, a single received command will move the avatar left/right by a predefined distance. As the delay between the decision and a measurable signal can be up to a few seconds, the time window of detection of the signal should be slow-paced enough to be controllable via BCI, while the game animations should still appear fast, entertaining with good action effects. Funny animations will be added to indicate absence of meaningful BCI input. For example, if the game receives no input from one pilot, a car avatar may start to smoke while a horse avatar may start to snort. To design the game, the event website will be open for 6 months to collect developers’ preferences regarding game type and signal-command mapping. A prototype of the game will then be provided on the website as soon as possible so that teams can train for the competition.
The pilots will start simultaneously. Pilots will not be allowed to intentionally generate artifacts (e.g. eye movement, muscle activation) that could affect the BCI. Pilots will have to keep their eyes open and to look at the animation screen during the race. To prove function and prevent cheating, at least one training session will have to be performed with the BCI prior to the official race. During this session, independent judges will check the actions of all pilots and will have access to all hardware and software used by the teams. They may also request that the pilots e.g. intentionally generate artifacts to see how the BCI is affected. During the event, judges will monitor the behavior of the BCIs (e.g. check, if they apply movement artifacts to get an advantage) and pilots and may impose penalties ranging from avatar slowdown to disqualification.[/accordion]The Cybathlon championship is organized on behalf of the Swiss National Competence Center of Research in Robotics (NCCR Robotics).
Everything you might want to know about the competition, from the registration process to presentation of all six game disciplines, can be found on the official Cybathlon website.