Technology designed to help people with disabilities has come a long way in the last decade. There are now bionic arms and legs, powered wheelchairs and even exoskeletons that give people who are paralyzed the ability to walk again. But we still have a long way to go—and that’s where the Cybathlon comes in.
The global, olympic-style competition was the brainchild of Robert Riener, a professor from ETH Zurich, who wanted to push the limits of assistive technology and spread awareness. It’s a competition where people with physical disabilities compete against each other to do day-to-day tasks like screwing in a lightbulb, making breakfast and doing laundry with prosthetic arms, legs and other aids.
“Some of us only have one arm, some of us are sitting in a wheelchair, but we are part of a race and not people with a disability,” says Claudia Breidbach, a member of the Icelandic team Össur UEX participating in the powered arm race.
Breidbach took part in the first Cybathlon in 2016 and came in fourth place. She’s gearing up for Cybathlon 2020 which will include new and more challenging tasks. In the powered arm race, for example, participants now have to complete a haptic box challenge that involves feeling and identifying objects with their prosthetic.
“Cybathlon shows people where we can force the technology to be better and better, to create the best technology for us,” said Breidbach.
The hope is that this new task pushes the development of sensory feedback to make even more advanced prosthetic arms, and improve daily life for these people.
In the lead up to the big competition, ETH Zurich and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology hosted a powered arm and leg prosthesis race in Germany. It was an early rehearsal for the second annual competition to take place in Zurich next May, and gave Breidbach a preview of the new tasks and her competition.
Watch the video above where Quartz News travels to Karlsruhe, Germany to follow Breidbach as she competes in the powered arm prosthetics race on the road to Cybathlon 2020.
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