How racing cyborgs will push prosthetics into the future

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Want to watch cyborgs compete in epic sporting events? A bionic battle is set to go down in October of 2016 at the first Cybathalon in Zurich—an Olympics specifically for athletes using technological prosthetics and enhancements.

The event isn’t just about the cool factor (though that’s definitely high). And it isn’t about giving disabled athletes another event to compete in. In theory, it’s about spurring an improvement in the prosthetics and assistive technologies available to non-athletes as well.

Many athletes with amputations who compete in events such as the Paralympic Games now use prosthetics so sophisticated they provoke debate as to whether they provide an advantage over biological limbs. But this high level of function hasn’t yet trickled down to mainstream prosthetic availability.

“Some of the current technologies look very fancy,” event organizer Robert Riener told the BBC, “but are a long way from being practical and user-friendly.” He said he hopes events like the Cybathalon can increase awareness of the technology and push its development forward for the disabled community at large.

Each event will award two medals: One for the athlete, or “pilot,” and one for the company that developed their assistive device. In addition to races for those with leg prosthetics and wheelchairs, the event will include exoskeleton races and even a brain-computer interface race: Competitors paralyzed from the neck down will control an avatar in a computerized race, using a headset.