Cybathlon 2024 to include the visually impaired and robot aides

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Intelligent service robots are designed to increase well being and help people w

Intelligent service robots are designed to increase well being and help people with everyday tasks. (Image credit: F&P Personal Robotics)

The third edition of the Cybathlon will take place October 25 - 27, 2024 in Zurich and in an even more inclusive, global format. In two new race disciplines, people with disabilities solve everyday tasks with the help of intelligent visual assistance technologies or robot assistants.

ETH Zurich’s third edition of Cybathlon will take place October 25 - 27th, 2024 with a main event in Zurich, Switzerland and teams participating at hubs around the world. As a platform focused on a world without barriers, Cybathlon challenges teams to develop everyday assistive technologies for, and in collaboration with, people with disabilities. In 2024, approximately 160 international teams will compete in a global competition. "Compared to the 2016 and 2020 editions, we are incorporating a greater degree of unpredictability and a wider spectrum of tasks into the 2024 tasks", says Roland Sigrist, Head of Cybathlon. For example, prior to the race, the wheelchair pilots (pilots are persons with a disability who pilot the new technology) will not be able to anticipate the sequence in which they will encounter steps of differing heights and must react to the situation in the heat of the moment, much like they would in everyday scenarios. This requires international teams to develop even more robust, functional, and dynamic assistive technologies for people with disabilities. Such qualities ensure a greater likelihood of user acceptance.

Two new, and more inclusive, race disciplines

In addition to the continued development of the six existing race disciplines (Arm Prosthesis, Leg Prosthesis, Exoskeleton, Brain-computer Interface, Wheelchair, and Functional Electrical Stimulation Bike), two new Cybathlon disciplines will feature in 2024. There will be a race using smart vision assistance technologies for persons with visual impairments and a race using assistant robots for persons with severely limited use of their arms and legs.

The Vision Assistance Race is the first Cybathlon race for people with a sensory impairment. For people with visual impairments, finding a particular product in the supermarket or spotting unexpected construction works on their way to work each day can prove immensely challenging. "While there are a variety of vision aids on the market, their functions are often limited to a specific area, such as reading a text aloud," states Lukas Jaeger, Cybathlon’s Head of Competition. "Smart visual assistive technologies that support people with blindness in their day-to-day lives and in an intuitive and comprehensive way have a great potential," states Jaeger.

In the new Assistance Robot Race participating pilots with disabilities must work together with the robot to pick up various objects within a set time period or, together, avoid obstacles, for instance. It does not matter if the robot is part of the wheelchair or a separate device such as a drone. Assistant robots offer a tremendous potential to support people with disabilities, who have very little or no control over their arms and legs, gain more independence.

Flexible, global, and inclusive event format

Cybathlon has also taken an innovative approach to the event format. "We learned a great deal during the execution of the Cybathlon 2020 Global Edition. We are using this understanding of how to carry out a decentralised, global event and competition in order to make Cybathlon more inclusive, more sustainable and more flexible," says Roland Sigrist. Cybathlon 2024 will be held at the Arena Schluefweg Kloten , just outside of Zurich in Switzerland. However, the organisers are also giving the teams the option to organise their own local Cybathlon hub and to take part in the competition without having to travel to the main venue. "On the one hand, given the global nature of the event, it allows us to respond in a flexible way in a pandemic situation or similar circumstances, and on the other, it helps us to make our desired contribution to sustainability and inclusion. Anyone who is unable to travel to Zurich or does not wish to do so can start at home in front of a local audience," explains Sigrist. Over the next three years, in the run-up to 2024, competitions will be presented in this form at various national and international Cybathlon events.

Fostering a dialogue with the world

As a platform, Cybathlon connects society, research and development, and people with disabilities in an emotional, positive, and unique way. Since the idea first came to Professor Robert Riener at ETH Zurich back in 2013, more than 100 teams from more than 30 countries have taken part in various Cybathlon events. Cheered on by thousands of spectators around the world. In recent years the developer teams have demonstrated the obstacles that people with disabilities encounter in their day-to-day lives and how technology can contribute to a world without barriers. The competition now comprises eight different disciplines: Brain-Computer Interface Race, Functional Electrical Stimulation Bike Race, Arm Prosthesis Race, Leg Prosthesis Race, Exoskeleton Race, Wheelchair Race, the Vision Assistance Race, and the Assistance Robot Race.

Vanessa Bleich

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