Whenever we think of sports, we think of highly trained, incredibly fit athletic individuals who have honed their bodies to perfection for their chosen sport. Rarely do we think of people who are missing limbs, use wheelchairs, or suffer from other disabilities. Cybathlon is a project that is going to try to change this perception some time in 2016. Cybathlon’s goal is the combination of robotics with disabled athletes as pilots to create a sport competition that mixes high technology with the competitive human spirit. If played right, it could work.
Think of NASCAR, for example. Most people just see a bunch of cars racing, but in fact there is a huge amount of technology being developed to create the winning vehicle. Every year, the organization behind NASCAR releases a new set of rules to essentially slow the cars down. Every year, a team is assembled for each vehicle entry to find ways to speed the cars up within the new ruleset. This requires a lot of ingenuity and results in automobile technology that trickles down into the consumer market. It also makes the career of any engineer that is part of the team. It shows the ability to be innovative under pressure, work within a team environment and adaptation. People who survive the NASCAR events are basically able to write their own tickets to their job of choice.
Imagine if something like that existed for Cybathlon. There is clearly money to be made here, and the tech that would have to go in to the winner’s circle would essentially form the prototype for a consumer product. It’s easy to imagine a disabled athlete with a pit crew of medical technologists working on the final touches of an exoskeleton that the athlete will use in a race. The event provides human achievement, R&D and employee testing and training all in one go.
Will this be what happens? Hard to say. Cybathlon wants to launch in 2016, so perhaps some seed money has already been handed over. To turn it into a profitable venture, Cybathlon will have to capture the attention of the public and provide a business case for profit. Both are difficult things to do. Cross your fingers and see you in 2016!