Couple the Defense Research Projects Agency’s major and well-funded interest in prosthetics with the grit shown by amputee veterans to excel in sports and you’ve got a heck of start for building a U.S. team for the first-ever bionic Olympics. The Cybathlon, an international competition for athletes using advanced prosthetics, is to be held in October 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland. “The competitions are comprised by different disciplines that apply the most modern powered knee prostheses, wearable arm prostheses, powered exoskeletons, powered wheelchairs, electrically stimulated muscles and novel brain-computer interfaces,” according to the games’ official website.
The games are being organized on behalf of the Swiss National Competence Center of Research in Robotics. DARPA has a number of programs that ultimately, benefit not only the active-duty soldier, but the injured veteran who remains determined live with as few limitations as possible. DARPA has been hot at work on advanced prosthetics – legs, arms, hands – and exoskeletons. Could hardly be a better opportunity to field test some of these technologies than a kind of Olympics specifically for men and women using them. And there probably is no shortage of people willing to take on the challenge. When the agency went looking for people to take part in human trials that involved brain surgery to link the mind to a robotic arm they had no trouble finding volunteers. “We had quadriplegic volunteers who agreed to ... have a small array placed on the surface of their brains, to pick up these neural signals for motor control, and then to use those to control these new, very sophisticated, robotic, prosthetic arms,” DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar told National Public Radio in a recent interview. The Cybathlon will include competitions involving brain-computer interfaces; prosthetic legs and arms; powered exoskeletons; powered wheelchairs, and more. Two medals will be awarded for winners in each event. One will go to the “pilot” – that is, the individual in the competition – and the other will go to the producer of the technology.