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:


The benefits of Cybathlon are overwhelming according to our readers

At the end of last week we launched a survey to find out whether our readers felt Cybathlon would be capable of advancing assistive technology, whether more should be done to encourage participation and whether people would watch the event on television… and the results are in.

Pie chart showing the results of a survey into Cybathlon. This is looking at whether assistive technology will be helped by Cybathlon

Click to view interactive chart

As you can see, it seems that the consensus is that Cybathlon will help improve and develop assistive technology for people with disabilities – nobody said it wouldn’t. The coming together of great scientific and engineering brains for the event is likely to see great steps made towards more efficient and useable technology.

Would you watch cybathlon on television

Click to view interactive chart

It also looks like Cybathlon could captivate the public with 74% saying they would watch the competition on television.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 17.08.33

Click to view interactive chart

Image: Courtesy of Ekso Bionics™


Twitter accounts for 3D printing

Cybathlon will no doubt attract the big robotics companies from around the world, but could also be a showcase for products made using 3D printing.

If you’ve heard about the growth of 3D printing and want to get into it, here are the best 5 Twitter accounts to help you keep up with the world of 3D printing.

1. E-NABLE (Twitter: @Enablethefuture)

Global community of volunteers printing 3D-printed hands from their homes or workplaces, and delivering them for free to those in need.


2. Open Bionics (@openbionics)

Leading the way in making prosthetics cheaper, Open Bionics, founded by Joel Gibbard, are developing open source 3D-printed arms.

3. Matt Ratto (@mattratto)

Determined that prosthetics should not be something only those in the developed world can afford, Dr Matt Ratto from the University of Toronto is running a pilot project in Uganda delivering 3D-printed prosthetics.

4. Kidesign (@kidesign3d)

3D printing is not only a skill being honed by tech experts, but whizz-kids too, with the help of educational programmes offered by Kidesign.

5. Makerbot (@makerbot)

One of the leading 3D printer brands, Makerbot is attempting to make 3D printers affordable and reliable.


Q+A: NeuroCONCISE ready for real-time BCI challenge

The NeuroCONCISE team from the University of Ulster have entered the BCI discipline at Cybathlon 2016. We caught up with team leader Damien Coyle and asked him the questions you all wanted to know.

How did you hear about Cybathlon?

I got the first flyer at a BCI workshop I went to, so it was fairly early on that I knew it was happening. From there it was direct contact, because I’m really integrated within the BCI community.

What do you think about competitions for technology development?

I’m always interested in competitions and have been working in BCI since 2002. These types of things are challenging, and they can be difficult or time-consuming but they’re really good to get involved in as they help you validate what you’re doing. It’s a key thing to test your systems and your technologies.

Does Cybathlon differ from other competitions you’ve entered in the challenges it poses?

It is totally different because this is a real-time application challenge, and you’re working with people with physical impairments, as they are the pilots. Other BCI competitions give you a set of pre-loaded data that has been recorded and you have to give the labels of the different activities that the person was doing. There will be data with test labels and without, so it’s all offline data analysis. There’s no real-time element to it at all.

Why do you think Cybathlon has such a good format?

The other competitions have been a good test of algorithms and training, but it wasn’t testing the real-world. Cybathlon will test technology in a real-world setting with real-time control, and all the challenges that brings. There are so many things that could go wrong, so you have to deal with all that and try to produce the best outcomes at the competition.

Damien Coyle

Damien Coyle

Do you have a pilot?

I’ve got a guy locally to here and he’s young and enthusiastic. I think he is going to be our pilot now.

Will you go to the rehearsal?

Yes we have plans to go to that. We secured some funding and that is our intention. But because we had issues finding a pilot we’ve had a little bit of a setback in making progress planning for that. I have secured about £6,000 to cover it, and we are definitely confident we can make it even though we haven’t had a lot of sessions with the pilot.

How is the training going?

We will ramp it up in June, because I haven’t had much time to work on the real-time element.  We have the game from Cybathlon and have been doing some testing with able-bodied participants. We are making slow but steady progress on it.

Is the game different to what you expected?

It’s a challenging enough game! You are kind of expected to have three classes* and a no control state. Whereas we’ve been used to having two classes with the no control state not really necessary.  With the Cybathlon game there are three different things you have to do: one of them is jump, one is speed, and one of them is kick your opponent. You have to do these at certain times, but on top of that if the system detects you are doing these outside the movements it slows you or your character falls. You have to have the no-control state where the system detects you are not trying to do one of the other three. That is a challenge.

[*Class = technology normally involves the imagination of left and right movements, which are known as classes. So you imagine left to move the cursor or character left, and vice versa. There are targets on the left or the right, and that dictates what class you are aiming for. So it is class left, class right, or class 1, class 2.]


NeuroCONCISE logo

Image: Courtesy of NeuroCONCISE


AUDIO: ‘I could programme by 10’ says Shadow Robot’s Rich Walker

Back in March Rich Walker told us all about Shadow Robot and the incredible work they do to produce top of the range robotic hands and ship them all around the world.

In this short audio clip he explains his background, the frustrations of trying to do a PhD, and how he became involved with Shadow Robot.

Image: Courtesy of the Shadow Robot Company


LIVEBLOG: Cybathlon catch-up

  • Get in contact with your thoughts and comments via Twitter @InsideCybathlon
  • 45 teams have entered the competition
  • British team Motion Robotics have entered the Exoskeleton Race
  • Jonathan Brough is still racing
  • The Brainstormers have a pilot
  • They’ll be competing against a team from Italy in the BCI race

16.15 That’s a wrap

That’s it for today’s liveblog. We thank all the teams who have contacted us today and told us how their preparations for next years tournament are going, hopefully you’ve enjoyed yourself and found a love for the tournament.

All the main points of today are featured at the top of this post so check back to find out what’s happened.

Thanks everyone. (CT)

16.10 Before we sign off…

We’d like to let you know what we’ve got got planned for the next couple of days.

We’ll have some audio with Rich Walker from Shadow Robot, where he’ll explain how he struggled to agree on a PhD and how he became involved with the Shadow company.

There’s a a new explainer about the arm prosthetics race and a community post based on your responses to our survey, amongst lots of other things. (CT)

16.04 A final update from the streets

Sam has met Joe, 22, on the streets on North London and asked him whether he had heard about Cybathlon. Joe said:

“I actually saw a bit about this on the BBC a few months ago! I’m glad it’s still pushing forward and yes it’s definitely something I want to know more about. I’ll try my best to watch some of it next year when it’s on TV.”


Looks like a clean sweep of interest in the championships next year.

We should probably thank Sam for beating the streets this afternoon and feeding back to us with comments on the championship, good work.


15.58 Not only have they entered. They’re excited.

The WHI team tweeted this dramatic video two days ago.

15.55 Enter Italy

A team from the University of Padova have entered Cybathlon. The International WHI team led by the IAS lab at the university have entered the BCI discipline and will compete against the Brainstormers. Game on.

15.50 More from Gray Matter

The pilot for Team Gray Matter will be a man called Pete, who is a tetraplegic. Here is Ivan’s update on the progress:

“Pete has been enjoying the process so far, and really understands the process much better now. Our technological leader is over in the UK, which has been great.

There have been a few complications with the hardware but we have broadened the number of people supporting the team and have secured lab space as well as hands-on technical support, so we are dealing with the situation as best we can.

We only secured sponsorship recently, through the UK law firm Irwin Mitchell. We feel like training and development is really underway now.”


15.46 Something for the Gray Matter

News from the team is that they have a new website. If you don’t know much about them they’re a team with members in Switzerland and the UK. Their pilot, Peter Gray, is based in Doncaster.

Check out their website here. (LL)

A screenshot of the homepage of the Grey Matter team's website

15.42 ICYMI here’s some of the stories that you might have missed from our site

We got hold of some data showing British soldiers in Afghanistan needed ten times the number of amputations than colleagues in Iraq.

Earlier this year we went to Colchester and visited Chavasse VC House to speak to Claire Worland from Help For Heroes about how Cybathlon might help injured servicemen.

If you want to know if there’s a team entering the competition near you, you should check out our interactive map of the teams.

Want to learn more about Cybathlon? We’ve made a Twitter list of the 10 best accounts to follow. Check it out here.


15.35 More from the road

24-year-old graduate Tom, who’s working in Shoreditch, told Sam:

“I always read about these kind of treatments for people who are really disabled but I never imagined it could be used for sport really. It sounds very interesting and is definitely something I’ll be keeping an eye on.”


15.31 On that note…

Speaking of Ekso Bionics, it’s worth mentioning a bit about their technology. Our reporter Laura Lambert wrote in November that Ekso had helped people walk the equivalent of London to Kuala Lumpur using their equipment.

It’s also helped US war veterans return to normal life. Scott Pelley from CBS interviewed U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald and Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson.

Secretary McDonald told Pelley, ‘the best thing he’s seen is the exoskeleton’. While wearing this motorized suit, veteran Billy Woods has been able to walk on his own for the first time in four decades.

15.25 Exoskeletons developed for the military

The technology that will be on show at Cybathlon is also being developed for military application. It is thought that soldiers would be able to use exoskeletons to carry heavier loads, travel greater distances and aid movement.

A variety of companies are working on the technology including Ekso Bionics. (CT)

15.21 Exo entries

More news from the British contingent. Motion Robotics have entered the exoskeleton discipline. Dennis Majoe from the team, told us:

“When I first heard about Cybathlon from Professor Riener I thought ‘this is really what we need to a) challenge designers but b) provide a potentially sustainable market. I haven’t delved extremely deeply into the figures but the amount of spinal-cord injury people is a market that receives a lot of attention and a lot of support. It is still a valid market.”


15.16 Jonathan hasn’t given up

We’ve spoken quite a bit with Jonathan Brough, detailing his story, and that he was told he wouldn’t be allowed to compete.

Chatting to him this morning, he’s staying upbeat. He said:

“I’ve recently taken part in a race with people from lots of different countries and it was amazing. It was like I was on the run. If you fell behind the pace then you were out. I really enjoyed it.


15.10 An update from the streets

Sam has found another willing interviewee (probably on an extended lunch break). He’s spoken to Julie from Clapham. She said:

“I preferred the Paralympics in 2012 to the actual Olympics – I think people found that more inspirational than any sport they had seen before. At least my family did! So this sounds like something really exciting.”


15.00 Branding the Brainstormers

Last piece of news from the Brainstormers is they have a shiny new logo. If you want to follow them on Twitter, click here. (LL)

Brainstormers logo

Brainstormers logo

14.58 Who is the mystery man?

More news on that front is that we can name their pilot, as 28-year-old David Rose. Here is an excerpt from his statement about why he wanted to take part.

Well, 28 years ago I ended up as a wheelchair user after diving into a swimming pool and hitting my head on the bottom, breaking my neck at cervical level C5/6. That is now over half my life spent using a wheelchair rather than walking. This left me with limited arm movement, no hand or finger movement and no movement below the shoulders.

My life was obviously turned upside down in a split second! I spent six months in a Spinal Injuries Centre learning all about how to live a very different life and I was then back home in the “real world” again. This is when you learn about how it is easy to take even the simplest things for granted. Getting out of bed and getting dressed, simply picking up a glass. So many things are difficult or impossible to do.

I was reading an article about The Brainstormers Team and The Cybathlon on how a group of PHD students, from The University of Essex, were trying to “let you communicate without speaking or moving – meaning humans would be able to operate computers, robots or virtual reality environments using just neurosignals, even if they had no control of their muscles”. After reading this I just had to become involved.

And a photo of the team:




14.54 Brainstormers on a roll

While we’re on the topic of the Essex crew, Ana Matran-Fernandez has some exciting news to update us with:

“We finally found a pilot, and we received some good funding through a grant from the department, so I think for now we are covered.

We will be going to the mock race in July and are very excited to take part. We are really looking forward to it.” (LL)


14.49 Eye controlled apps?

You might remember we spoke to Essex based BCI team the Brainstormers in February where they explained their plan to take Cybathlon by storm.

Now they’ve built an app called Eye Wink that allows users to control their mobile phones by winking. PhD students Davide Valeriani and Ana Matran-Fernandez recently took part in Hack the Brain, the first UK Hackathon dedicated to projects related to the brain and won with their EyeWink project. They wrote in a blog:

“We were really proud that in such a short space of time our team had a good idea and a fully working prototype,” explained Ana.”

Following the success at Hack the Brain, Davide and Ana are now hoping to develop the project into a wearable wireless device (EyeWink) which can be used for a wide range of ways to control a smartphone using combinations of winks and blinks – from changing a song while running to locating a missing phone.

EyeWink will allow users to control their phones without their hands. In the future, Davide and Ana would like to develop it for people with mobility issues, such as those who have locked-in syndrome.


14.42 On our TV screens

Now onto the potential for Cybathlon to make it onto our televisions. We’ve just heard from Geoff Goodwin, executive producer at 40 partners. At present, 40 Partners is looking to co-develop a show with Twenty Twenty, led by Tim Carter.

Geoff says about Cybathlon:

“We want to develop a show to document the event and the human stories therein.

We think of Cybathlon as the world’s first bionic games. From a production point of view, the thing that makes it so exciting for us is that we are going to be able to show some of the greatest advances in new technologies.”

These technologies are going to be able to help people in a way that takes not just one or two steps, but it feels like a step-change moment for everybody. Not just for the people and pilots involved, but for the whole world.

It is an opportunity to show off these incredible technologies behind the scenes and then at Cybathlon itself on the world stage.

For me as a producer it is two-fold. It has all the hallmarks of an environment where there are going to be great human stories but secondly a great public service opportunity, to show the world how incredible these technologies are. Ultimately Cybathlon is about hope.” (LL)

14.37 In the news

Looking outside the realms of Cybathlon, but still very much in the field of bionics and technology, we have come across the following news stories.

First up, McDonalds will open up a store run by robots.

Second, the 3D printing show is on at the moment in east London. Check out the BBC tour, and see how it is being applied to prosthetics.

Lastly, man of the moment Professor Robert Riener has been interviewed by Robohub. Remember we interviewed Professor Riener in February. (LL)

14.33 Shadow Robot hands to be used in the kitchen

You might remember our interview with Rich Walker from Shadow Robot back in March where he told us about the work his company does.

Now they’ve developed a pair of robotic hands to help out in the kitchen. Created in conjunction with Moley Robotics, the hands are capable of interacting with kitchen equipment like blenders, knives and hobs. (CT)

14.25 ‘More impressive than Bridge’

In the first of his reports from the streets of London, Sam has spoken to 28-year-old John who lives in Clapham. He said:

“I’ve never heard of this link of technology being used for sport but why not? I think it’s certainly more impressive than some of the so-called sports you see nowadays, like Bridge which has just been classified as a sport”

14.20 Our roving reporter, Sam Dean, is on the ground talking to the public about Cybathlon and the technology behind it, he’ll be sending us updates across over the course of the afternoon with your views and opinion. (CT)

14.15 Berkel Bike explained

If you’d like to see how the Berkel Bike works, watch this YouTube clip:


14.12 What a Berkel Bike looks like

Here is a photo of Paul on a Berkel Bike at the Limb Power Games last weekend:

20150517_101756 (LL)

14.05 British team entry

First up is some exciting news of a new British team entry. Paul Moore, a former Paralympic athlete, is the CEO of ActiveLinx and they will be entering the FES Bike Race.

Paul says:

“I think our team will be called Berkel Bike UK, and we will be using the special bikes we manufacture. 

We’ve got a group of Berkel Bike users who are potentially going to be very good pilots.

We will probably train a few of them up and then we are trying to get some testing at Loughborough University, in a sort of pedal-off, to get the best pilot.

The good thing about a bike like the Berkel Bike is that for me, as a paraplegic, I could have four active limbs!” 



And we’re off. Welcome to the InsideCybathlon liveblog. Over the next few hours we’ll be bringing you updates from teams around the UK as well as the latest Cybathlon and robotics news, don’t forget to get in contact with us via Twitter at @InsideCybathlon (CT)


We’ll be bringing you the very latest from Jonathan Brough, the Brainstormers and more in just over an hour so make sure you stop by. (CT)


Good morning Cybathlon fans and welcome to our liveblog. Over the course of this afternoon we’ll be catching up with some of the people taking part in Cybathlon and rounding up all the news you might have missed.

Tune in from 2pm when the liveblog will start. (CT)


VIDEO: Team Imperial ready for Cybathlon challenges

Team Imperial are well on their way to Cybathlon 2016, and are mightily ambitious.

Currently one of the largest teams entered, the team from Imperial College have put students at the forefront of the project and will enter four, potentially five, categories.

Last week we met up with Dr Aldo Faisal, the team leader and neurotechnology expert. In part one of our Team Imperial video series, he explains the challenges he foresees in each of the disciplines they have entered: arm prosthetics race, Brain Computer Interface race, powered wheelchair race and exoskeleton race.


Image: Courtesy of ImpFest, Imperial College London


Mapped: Cybathlon goes global

It’s official

Interest in Cybathlon has grown exponentially since the event was first announced more than 15 months ago.

Since then people from every corner of the world have sought to find out more about this groundbreaking event, the technology behind it and the people that will be taking part.

The map below shows where our website has been viewed and as you can see, people from every continent (almost) have taken an interest in Cybathlon 2016.

Click the map to be taken to the interactive version where you can find out how many times each country has taken a look.

map showing where InsideCybathlon has been viewed


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 UMake.it, 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.