Augmented ‘Olympics’: Championship for Robot-Assisted Parathletes Coming in 2016

A championship sports event for parathletes using high-tech prostheses, exoskeletons and other robotic and assistive devices will be held in two years time.

The championship, named Cybathlon, will be the first Olympic-esque event for augmented humans, where unlike in the Olympics and Paralympics, the use of performance-enhancing devices will be actively encouraged.

The competitors, known as racing pilots or parathletes, will wear the most modern robotics and technologies to counteract their disabilities and enable them to perform in a way that, in some cases, is beyond the abilities of a typical human.

Because of the focus on robotic devices, there will be winning medals not only for the parathletes but also for the manufacturers of the devices.

cybathlon-leg

Cybathlon, which will be held in Zurich, Switzerland, on 8 October 2016, addresses a growing question for athletic events such as the Olympics and Paralympics where athletes wear prosthetics.

As prosthetic technology has improved it has become evident that prosthetics could soon give their wearers an advantage over able-bodied athletes, leading to some comparisons between advanced prosthetics and performance-enhancing drugs.

Because of this, the Olympic rules place very tight restrictions on prosthetics, which nearly resulted in Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius from being banned from the main games for having an unfair advantage.

However, there has been a growing call for an athletic event that encourages the advancement of prosthetics and augmentations, which Cybathlon is now fulfilling.

cybathlon-exo

The event, which is being organised by NCCR Robotics, should help to promote the development of more advanced robotic assistance systems for people with disabilities, as well as increasing public awareness about these technologies and what is currently possible.

Most importantly, the event will provide a unique opportunity for people with disabilities using such systems to compete, as no other event of this type exists anywhere in the world.

Cybathlon 2016 will offer six disciplines for pilots to compete in, all of which have strict entry rules which are viewable on the championship’s website.

The powered leg prosthetics race will involve an obstacle course featuring slopes, steps, uneven surfaces and straight sprints. Athletes will be able to compete in prosthesis that has its own power source, potentially resulting in devices more advanced that those worn by Paralympians.

There will also be a powered wheelchair race on a similar obstacle course, which again will feature a variety of surfaces and environments. The powered arm prosthetics competition will also allow the use of devices with their own power source, but will involve competing in tasks that measure dexterity.

For athletes with spinal cord injuries, the powered exoskeleton race will be undertaken over an obstacle course. This should be particularly interesting to follow as exoskeletons do not typically feature in athletic events, and the level of advancement in this field is not widely known to the general public.

There will also be a functional electrical stimulation bike race for competitors with spinal cord injuries. This will involve the athletes cycling with the aid of electrical stimulation despite being paralysed, typically from the waist down.

Equally remarkable will be the brain-computer interface race, which is a competition for pilots with complete paralysis below the neck. In this event, the pilots will compete in a computer-based horse or car race, with their own avatar controlled completely by their own thought.

The event will serve as a demonstration of the remarkable technologies that are being developed for people with disabilities, but also will serve as a true athletic event where the pilot’s commitment, training and attitude is essential to success. For this reason it eventually could produce parathlete megastars, as public interest in this event is likely to be significant.

If the event were to occur on a regular basis, it could also serve a demonstration of the growth of this field. Every Olympics we expect records to be broken, but in the Cybathlon this would almost be a certainty.


Images courtesy of Cybathlon.


Digital dogs: Wearable tech for pets could be the next billion dollar industry

The wearable technology market for humans is only just beginning to take off, with the industry predicted to generate $3bn this year. However, wearable technology for animals is the latest trend, and is fast becoming the next billion dollar tech industry.

For retailer,s the spending on our pets is growing to dizzying heights. Last year alone in the US a barking $55.7bn was spent on pets and in the UK pets had £300m ($495m) spent on them at Christmas.

Unsurprisingly, tech entrepreneurs are trying to capitalise on the panda-monium of the lucrative pet and animal care industry.

At present much of the wearable tech for animals is being made for dogs, but other animals are also starting to feel the benefits of the technology. This week Scottish company Silent Herdsman announced a £3m investment to develop their smart collars for cows.

Here we list some of the most useful, and in some cases just weird, pet technology looking to break into the market.

Mobile fat camp for dogs 

fitbark

It’s easy to over-pamper a pooch and end up with a dog that’s a little on the heavy side, so FitBark aims to help you keep your dog in shape.

The tiny doggie activity monitor, which weighs 8g and clips onto a collar, allows you to see your dogs playtime, compare it with other dogs and even compare fitness levels with your own.

In its successful Kickstarter funding drive the FitBark raised more than $80,000.

What your dog is thinking

Dogs are complicated creatures and beyond barking at an empty food bowl they struggle to communicate their feelings with us.

But, this is about to change with Voyce – which can tell you what your dog is thinking.

The device also provides details on heart rate, respiratory rate and activity, calories burnt and more.

The remote dog walker

auburnuniversity

For the lazy Auburn University, US, have created the perfect device for walking your dog – that means you don’t have to get up out of your chair.

Researchers from the university have created a backpack remote control system that you can strap onto your dog.

The device includes commands that will be given to the dog in audio or vibrations; it also allows you to track the dog’s GPS position meaning you’ll never have to go for walkies in the rain again.

Milking it: keeping track of your cow’s moovements 

At its very simplest the Silent Herdsman is a necklace for cows, but in reality it is a lot more than that.

The wearable tech is a monitoring system for cows that allows famers to keep track of their cattle. It can track whether a cow is in heat, where they are and their movement, and the company hopes it will make owning cows more profitable for farmers.

This week the company announced a £3m ($4.9m) investment led by Scottish Equity Partners and believes there is a market opportunity of more than $1bn per year.

Vibrating dogs: app-based dog training

If you’ve ever wanted to be able to control your dog with an iPhone then Pet-Remote could be the tech you need.

A small remote, collar and smartphone is all you need to train your dog, according to Tractive who are behind the device.

By pressing a button on the remote your dog will feel vibrations from the collar, which apparently won’t hurt the pooch and in theory will make it stop what it is doing.

Missing moggies: cat tracking device

sticknfind

After being let out at night cats can disappear for days, popping into neighbours’ homes for feeding, getting affection from others or even getting lost.

StickNFind have produced a range of tracking stickers that can be put onto your cats collar to help locate it when it’s gone missing.

The stickers work with smartphones and use long-range Bluetooth to show the location of the missing moggy.

Tail lights: no more horsing around 

taillights

Although being pretty large, horses have never been the most brightly coloured animals.

One project, Tail Lights, to make horses and their riders visible to those driving on roads included attaching a series of LEDs to the back-end of an animal. For those endurance riders the lights would have lasted for up to 26 hours.

Unfortunately for equine fans the Kickstarter campaign for the lights failed to reach its target of £100,000 as it raised only a quarter of the target.


Featured image courtesy of Eric Sontroem via Flickr / Creative Commons Licence.