In 2016, Zurich will be the host of a new bionic take on human history — robotic Olympics. Bringing mere mortals and out-of-this world technology ever closer, Switzerland is set to host the first ever Cybathlon. The world’s top athletes with disabilities will compete with cutting-edge robotic technology in new competitive events. While it's no scene out of a Transformers movie — thank goodness — the Cybathlon will showcase both amazing athletes with disabilities and the breakthrough technology that works with them.
While technology usually complicates regular sporting events, raising questions over unfair advantages and cheating, the Cybathlon welcomes it.
"The rules of the competition are made in such way that the novel technology will give the pilot an advantage over a pilot that would use a comparable but less advanced or conventional assistive technology," the event organization says on its website.
For prospective athletes and teams, the event will be the opportunity of a lifetime.
"There will be as few technical constraints as possible, in order to encourage the device providers to develop novel and powerful solutions," the organization continued.
The Functional Electrical Stimulation Bike Race will feature pilots with spinal cord injuries competing in functional electrical stimulation devises. There will be two or three lanes in a track course of about 200 meters.
Powered Leg Prosthetics Race won’t be your typical track competition. Athletes with prosthetic legs will face slopes, staircases, gravel passages and pivoting-ramps.
The Powered Exoskeleton Race will enable athletes who could otherwise not walk to compete in large exoskeleton tech suits to walk along narrow beams, lift weights, and ascend and descend different passageways.
The Powered Arm Prosthetics Competition will feature athletes, or "pilots," with exoprosthetic devices completing a series of hand-arm challenges. Close-up camera shots of competing athletes will be broadcast across the stadium.
The Powered Wheelchair Race will feature athletes of different ability levels (quadriplegic, paraplegic and amputees). Power wheelchairs will allow them to scale a path of elevated bars, sand and gravel pits, doorways and narrow turns.
Perhaps the most bionic will be athletes competing in the Brain-Computer Interface Race. Using brain sensors, athletes will control an avatar's velocity and direction in a simulated world.
The Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research is organizing the event, along with a series of disability and technology sponsors. There will be two medals for each competition: one for the athlete or pilot using the device and one for the creator of the device.
Cybathlon’s mark won’t just be its novelty. Its power will also be in driving new technological advances while drawing attention to disability rights and athletic power. We will be sure to tune in.