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Switzerland to host the first Cybathlon, an Olympics for bionic athletes

Switzerland to host the first Cybathlon, an Olympics for bionic athletes

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A coalition of Swiss robotics labs has announced the Cybathlon, the first-ever international competition for athletes who use prosthetics and other aids, will be held in October of 2016.

The competition is modeled after the Olympics and will feature six events: a bike race, leg race, wheelchair race, exoskeleton race, arm prosthetics race, and Brain Computer Interface race for competitors with full paralysis. The National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Robotics is hosting the competition to spur interest in emerging human-oriented robotics technologies.

Unlike the Olympics, where athletes can use prosthetics only to make themselves as good as able-bodied athletes and not better, Cybathlon competitors are encouraged to use the best technology. Dual prizes will be awarded, one to the athlete and one to the company that created the prosthetic, device, or software.

"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 organization says on its website. "There will be as few technical constraints as possible, in order to encourage the device providers to develop novel and powerful solutions."

Of course, the races will be slower than their Olympic counterparts, but they're also arguably more mind-boggling. The exoskeleton competitors, for example, must walk over a slope, up steps, around pillars, over a see-saw, across a narrow beam, then pick up a bag and carry it, go around tight corners, and then sprint to the finish line.