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This article was published on March 29, 2016

    The world’s first cyborg Olympics is coming

    The world’s first cyborg Olympics is coming
    Matthew Hussey
    Story by

    Matthew Hussey

    Commissioning Editor

    Matt Hussey was the former Editor-in-Chief for The Next Web. Previously he worked on the launch of Wired UK, ShortList and Mr Porter. He's b Matt Hussey was the former Editor-in-Chief for The Next Web. Previously he worked on the launch of Wired UK, ShortList and Mr Porter. He's been an active contributor to GQ, FHM, Men's Health, Yahoo, The Daily Telegraph and maintains a blog on Huffington Post

    A group of scientists in Europe want to know if electronically enhanced humans have an unfair advantage over regular people – beyond night vision and a skeleton made of steel of course.

    The cyborg Olympics, or Cybathlon as it has been dubbed, will take place in Zurich this October. Its aim is to measure the performance of the latest developments in technology that helps people with disabilities complete daily tasks.

    Unlike the regular Olympics, in which athletes with enhancements are considered to have an unfair advantage, at the Cybathlon, these mods are to be encouraged.

    ETH Cybathlon rehearsal at the Swiss Arena in Kloten, Switzerland, July 14th 2015. (ETH/Alessandro Della Bella)
    Credit: Cybathlon
    ETH Cybathlon rehearsal at the Swiss Arena in Kloten, Switzerland, July 14th 2015. (ETH/Alessandro Della Bella)

    In the cycling race for example, paraplegics will be propelled forward via electrical stimulation systems that move their legs by stimulating the muscles. For competitors with prosthetic arms, contests include slicing loaves of bread and opening jars of jam. Other events include people climbing stairs or walking across stepping-stones.

    The event is being organized by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich). 

    “It’s less about force and speed, and more about control of the body and the device,” the event organizer Robert Riener told IEEE Spectrum. As a result the competitors won’t be called athletes, but pilots.

    The event was created as a way to spur innovation in an industry where few eligible for prostheses actually use them. In a similar vein to DARPA’s Robotics Challenge – in which teams are invited to build machines that can handle a number of random tasks – which creates a competitive environment with the hope of spurring innovation.

    ETH Cybathlon rehearsal at the Swiss Arena in Kloten, Switzerland, July 14th 2015. (ETH/Alessandro Della Bella)
    ETH Cybathlon rehearsal at the Swiss Arena in Kloten, Switzerland, July 14th 2015. (ETH/Alessandro Della Bella)

    A trial run took place last year and appeared to be a resounding success.

    There are 80 teams expected at the Cybathlon, and the likes of the BBC and Japan’s NHK are due to provide coverage of it. It’s hoped that if people are interested, the next Cybathlon could take place in Tokyo to coincide with the 2020 Summer Olympic Games.

    So athletes beware, the machines (and their pilots) are coming.