Cybathlon 2016

This past October, the world’s first Cybathlon – or International Assistive Devices Competition took place in Zurich, Switzerland.  Barber Prosthetics was there as part of the MASS Impact Team – made up of our patient, Danny Letain, our Research Prosthetist, Brittany Pousett, and a team of engineers and researchers from Simon Fraser University.  We had been working with this team for over a year and a half to develop a new way of controlling electric arm prostheses. 

The festivities started off with a Scientific Symposium.   At this event, we got the opportunity to share some of our novel research exploring the use of a new type of control strategy for upper extremity prostheses via a poster.  We also got to network with others who are passionate about developing new technology for people with amputations.  Throughout the day, some of the world experts talked about their research on prosthetics and other assistive devices and inspired us with what the future holds.

The next morning we headed to the Cybathlon Medical Check where Danny got the chance to demo the competition course.  The competition involved several activities that you might encounter on a daily basis such as picking up different shaped objects, setting a table, preparing food, carrying items and hanging up cloths.   He did an excellent job of each of the tasks and we were excited for the competition the following day!

The morning of the Cybathlon, arrived at the arena bright and early. The atmosphere was incredible – teams from all over the world were arriving, eager to try out their new technology on an international stage.  We prepared for the competition and were ready to go!

3 – 2 – 1.  The buzzer sounded and we were off.  Danny mastered the first obstacle – the puzzle and picked up several items including a cone, a ball and more!  The last piece fell prematurely but Danny used his excellent problem solving skills and moved on no problem.  The next obstacle was the wire loop puzzle – participants had to move a loop over a wire obstacle course without touching the wire and the loop together.  Several of our team members had tried it and failed, but Danny made it further than anyone else in the competition using a electric prosthesis!  Up next was the breakfast task – load up a tray of commonly used items (cutlery, dishes and food) and transfer it up some stairs, through a door and to a table.  It was here that we discovered some of the limitations of our technology. We had had a few technical difficulties in the days before the competition, and they surfaced again here.  But, despite these challenges, Danny stayed with it and finished as many of the obstacles as he could!

We are so proud of what we accomplished and are eager to address some of the challenges we encountered to see if we can make this technology even better!

After our heat, we got to sit back and watch the other competitions!  It was amazing seeing people accomplish things they had never done before!  People whose legs were completely paralyzed used exoskeletons to enable them to walk up stairs, across stepping stones, and weave around obstacles!  People who had lost a leg used prostheses to traverse a variety of obstacles and raced around the course in record time!  People who were paralyzed pedaled special bikes in which functional electrical stimulation enable their paralyzed muscles to move.  And people who were completely paralyzed played computer games using only their brain waves.  I could hardly believe what I was seeing!

Overall, the Cybathlon experience was an amazing one and we can’t wait to be back at the next one – whenever it is!