Ekso Bionics seal new deal with US army to supply advanced technology for Special Forces

EKSO Bionics, who are not participating in Cybathlon but are developing bionic equipment for university teams in the competition, have this week announced a new deal with the U.S Special Operations Command. The deal is for the development of the robotic exoskeleton the United States has commissioned to be built for its soldiers.

The Tactical Assault Light Operator (TALOS) suit, which must be bulletproof, weaponised and have the ability to examine and monitor the vital organs of the wearer, is designed to also give the wearer superhuman strength and perception.

This is the third deal of its kind between the two groups, and Ekso Bionics’ previous work has led to the US Patent Office providing it with three new patents.

The Special Operations Command revealed in 2014 that plans to design the superior uniform for the Special Operations Forces were ongoing. In the long-term, plans have been made to complete a suit which provides complete ballistic protection – which has unsurprisingly drawn comparisons to video game character Master Chief from the Halo series.

It is believed that, at this initial stage at least, the suit would not be intended for an entire squad of Special Forces – such as the team which brought down Osama Bin Laden and inspired the critically-acclaimed film Zero Dark Thirty – and instead by used by a lead operator who could protect other units from harm by, for example, moving through doorways first.

“The suit has drawn comparisons with video game character Master Chief from the Halo series”

The issue of the weight of the suit on a soldier’s body is to be resolved by what has been termed ‘intelligent weight distribution’ and other pieces of equipment, such as advanced night vision, 3D audio and highly advanced communications gear can be combined with the suit.

Originally known as Berkeley Bionics, Ekso Bionics was founded in California just ten years ago and has received research grants from Berkeley University and the United States Department of Defense prior to the TALOS deal.

The company is working alongside Lockheed Martin on TALOS, as Lockheed Martin has an exclusive contract with the US military. Formed only 20 years ago, Lockheed Martin has grown to employ over 100,000 staff and has become one of the world’s largest defence suppliers.

As Inside Cybathlon revealed in 2014, Ekso Bionics are committed to their work on disabilities as well as the more high-profile deal with the military super-suits.

They say they “are committed to applying the latest technology and engineering to help people rethink current physical limitations and achieve the remarkable.”

Ekso Bionics rejected a chance to participate in the event due to their focus on the training of such devices rather than developing them for use in daily life.

CORRECTION: This article was edited on 28th May 2015 to make it clear that, while Ekso Bionics technology will be used by teams at Cybathlon, the company themselves will not be competing.


EXPLAINER: How does the Powered Wheelchair race work?

The Powered Wheelchair Race is perhaps the Cybathlon event most related to a Paralympic sport.

It is still a highly unique event, though, and people of varying levels of disability can compete in the race, which sees pilots manoeuvre powered wheelchairs through a series of tricky obstacles and tasks as quickly and accurately as possible.

As with the rest of Cybathlon, this is not just for show, and serves a function for improving the daily lives of each competitor through the fact that the skills it requires are transferable into real life.

This is obvious from the fact that the tasks include navigating around a table, slalom, going over ramps, through doors, ensuring you maintain control on cobblestones, manoeuvring tilted pats and also, perhaps most challengingly, overcoming a small flight of stairs.

In order to be eligible, pilots must be either paraplegic or tetraplegic, although any serious impairments which prevent them from walking will be accepted by the event’s organisers.

For obvious reasons, pilots need to have control of their wheelchair and, as such, will need to demonstrate that they have sufficient voluntary control of either their head, shoulder, hand, finger, or tongue and voice if they require an input device.

As part of keeping the competition fair despite the exciting technological race for the best equipment, the bikes must weigh less than 200kg, backpacks are not allowed, and the wheelchair must be less than 900mm.

For a somewhat more visual representation of the powered wheelchair race, check out the official video below:


Disability data: Sorting disabilities across the world by gender, age and wealth

Data from the World Health Organisation has shown the prevalence of disabilities across the world and categorised it in terms of age, gender and the wealth of the country.

The figures reveal that almost twice as many women have disabilities as men, while there are two times as many people with disabilities in Q1 countries, which are the poorest by income, than in Q5 countries, which are the richest.

The report draws a clear line between a thriving economy and the prevalence of disabilities, while also demonstrating, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the growth in disabilities as people grow older is monumental.

You can see the data below:

Untitled Infographic (1)

The report goes on to show that the highest amount of people with severe disabilities are from Africa, closely followed by the Eastern Mediterranean.

Across the world, over 10 per cent of people aged 60 and over suffer from severe disabilities, compared to 0.7 per cent of people aged 14 and under.


Boost for Cybathlon 2016 as data reveals positive impact of Paralympic Games on disability sport

Almost half of British people had a more positive view of disabled people within a year of the 2012 Paralympic Games, according to data released under the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey.

The ONS Survey shows that, in 2013, 49 per cent of almost 8,000 people said the London Games had caused them to see people with disabilities more positively, while a negligible amount viewed them more negatively.

The trend continued into 2014, where 41 per cent of 3,000 people said their view of disabled people had become more positive because of what they witnessed from the likes of David Weir and Ellie Simmonds on the tracks of the Olympic stadium and in the Olympic pool.


David Weir was one of the most successful athletes at the Paralympic Games

The data will provide a boost for the organisers of Cybathlon, who will be looking to capitalise on the growing level of interest in disability sport when the event begins next year.

In addition, research conducted just weeks after the Games had finished suggested over three quarters of people said they feel positive about the role of disabled people in British society as a direct result of the Paralympics.

The Games, which were covered by Channel 4, were the most highly viewed disability sport event in history and the attention led to Lord Sebastian Coe saying the Paralympics had “a seismic effect in shifting public attitudes.”

An official government report on the legacy of the Olympics and Paralympics, which was published this month, says 2012 provided disability sport with a clear “impetus” and reveals that UK Sport has increased funding for the Great Britain Paralympics team as a result of the huge success of the London Games.

Image: Creative Commons


REVEALED: Which event are Cybathlon followers most interested in?

  • Brain Computer Interface voted the most interesting event
  • Followed by bike race and powered wheelchair race
  • Revolutionary BCI technology allows people to communicate without speaking or moving

The Brain Computer Interface (BCI) event has been voted the most interesting event by InsideCybathlon readers, pipping the bike and powered wheelchair races to first place.

A survey conduced by InsideCybathlon asked readers one simple question: “Which Cybathlon event are you most interested in?” and provided the options of: BCI, bike race, leg prosthetics race, powered exoskeleton race and powered wheelchair race.

Almost half of the respondents voted for BCI, while over 20 per cent opted for the bike race, which is designed for pilots with complete spinal cord injuries and allows them to cycle around a track via the use of Functional Electrical Stimulation devices which enables them to pedal.

The results of the survey can be seen below:

which cybathlon event are you most interested in

The Brain Computer Interface event will see pilots negotiate a series of obstacles as part of a racing game played on computers, using only their minds.

Pilots will have to send appropriate commands to move out of the way of oncoming objects, while four pilots can compete in one race at any time.

The game is the next strand of development of brain computer interface technology, which – aside from Cybathlon events – is designed to be used to allow disabled people to communicate.

The technology remains relatively unheard of, though, and teams such as the Brainstormers, from Essex, are hoping the publicity generated by Cybathlon will help shine more light on the work they and the other teams are doing.

The InsideCybathlon team visited the Brainstormers, where team leader Ana Matran-Fernandez explained how pilots will control the virtual cars in the race.

“We will ask them [the pilot] to think and move the car,” she said. “So they think of moving their left hand or foot, or right hand or foot and the car will move in that direction.”

You can see our video interview with Ana here:


AUDIO: The impact of the London 2012 Paralympic games and David Weir on disability sports and what that means for Cybathlon 2016

Inside Cybathlon’s Sam Dean spoke to ESPN and Sunday Times sport journalist Justin Guthrie in the News UK building at London Bridge about what we can learn from the staggering success of the Paralympic Games in 2012.

Guthrie makes the point that the attention the Paralympics was given as a standalone event, coupled with a change in perceptions towards sport in recent years – as well as attitudes towards disabilities in society in general – have provided Cybathlon with the perfect platform from which to succeed.


The best Twitter accounts to follow for Cybathlon

Cybathlon 2016 is drawing closer and closer, and the organisers and teams are starting to dial up their preparations for the big event.

But how can you stay in touch with everything that is going on? With the event still over a year away, who you should start following – other than @InsideCybathlon, of course – if you want to turn your fleeting interest into hardcore devotion?

From the Cybathlon teams themselves to the developers of the best robotic technology in the world, via some unmissable accounts dedicated to all things disability sport, here are the top 10 twitter accounts to follow.

1. Shadow Robot (@shadowrobot)

As the world leaders in robotic hands, Shadow Robot have developed mechanical hands so advanced they can adapt and grip objects as delicate as flowers. They have even been name-dropped by David Cameron and Barack Obama, as Managing Director Rich Walker told us.

2. Universal Robot (@universal_robot)

Universal Robots are at the forefront of creating robot technology for business. Based in Denmark, they say their robot arms can be used in business to “increase productivity, reduce injury and boost morale” in the workplace.

Although the company is only 12 years old, they have established subsidiaries in Barcelona and recently moved to a three-acre new headquarters. With more than 3,500 Universal Robot arms installed across the world, they are one of the major players in robot technology.

3. EasyStand (@EasyStand)

As the name suggests, EasyStand are aimed at helping the day-to-day lives of disabled people who struggle with sitting and standing. Based in Minnesota, EasyStand are under the wing of Altimate Medical, who have a long history of developing wheelchairs and shower commodes before devoting their attention to EasyStand. In their own words, they help people who use wheelchairs “feel the numerous physical and health benefits of standing”, while they also post a number of important blog posts, such as ‘How to talk to someone in a wheelchair.’

4. The Brainstormers (@CybathlonEssex)

The Brainstormers are a team of scientists located at the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering at the University of Essex, who will be competing in 2016.

They have spent years studying brain computer interfaces and are one of the leading teams when it comes to this revolutionary technology. We had the pleasure of seeing them at work, and asking them all about Cybathlon – you can read it here.

5. Ana Matran-Fernandez (@amatranfer)

Ana is the team leader of the Brainstrormers and has recently been working towards the development of @Wink_It, an app which allows users to remotely control their smartphones using their eyes only. 6. Davide Valeriani (@DavideValeriani)

Ana’s partner in crime, Davide is another member of the Brainstormers team from Essex. A PhD student in brain-computer interfaces, he is the co-founder of Wink It and also, which provides an online marketplace for ‘makers’ to share automated projects.

7. Aldo Faisal (@AnalogAldo)

The team leader of Team Imperial and a nueroscientist at Imperial College London. Team Imperial are looking to enter into four of the race categories: the arm prosthetics, the BCI race, the powered exoskeleton race and the powered wheelchair race, and many of the projects are student-run.  They may be entering one more category, but that is very much still in the pipeline.

8. Sports Innovations (@Sports_Innov8)

When you think of students, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Drinking? Sleeping? Partying? Avoiding all sense of adult responsibility?

Well, not these guys. Sports Innovations are a team of students from Imperial College London who are working towards designing, building and implementing Paralympic sporting equipment, as part of the Sports innovation challenge. Check them out.

9. Hocoma (@Hocoma)

Hocoma are another one of the leading companies in robotic rehabilitation for neurological movement disorders and specialise in lower back pain treatment. They are based in Switzerland, so don’t be put off by the fact that not all of their tweets are in English.

Their creation Valedo won a Red Dot ‘Honourable Mention’ award this year for its ‘outstanding design solution’ and they work closely with the leading clinics and research centres, so there will always at the forefront of the latest technology.

10. Cybathlon (@cybathlon)

The Twitter account of the event organisers themselves will keep you up to date with the event’s date and regulations as well as bringing your attention to other Paralympic athletes and achievements across the UK and worldwide.