Bionic Olympic Games Set for 2016

The greatest technology may be perhaps the technology that helps humans overcome challenges. Some of the most impressive technologies are the ones that have the ability to change people's lives. These can be prosthetic limbs, augmented reality glasses, or even exo-skeletons. And, thanks to recent advances, these fields of technology have been growing extremely fast.

Now, to stir up some more interest in the area and hopefully spur more growth, the Swiss National Competence Center of Research is hosting a "Cybathlon," also known as an Olympics for bionic athletes.

Before getting into the Olympics, let's reflect on some of the technology fueling this field. Bionics consist of three main interfaces to make them work: Bionical, the area concerning how the prosthetics or exo-skeletons connect to the human body; Dynamic, the area that focuses on how the devices will move like flesh and bone and in sync with flesh and bone; and finally, the Electrical, the main communications of the system, which link the nervous system to the device's electronic control systems. Using the latest research, many scientists now have a greater understanding of the body's nervous system. In turn, engineers can now create robotics, which can use the body's electrical pulses as a means of controlling devices.

Indeed, many amazing prosthetics and body suits have been built and are in use all around the world today. One is Lockheed Martin's HULC exoskeleton, which has been designed to help humans carry excessive loads. Japanese company Cyberdyne has created the HAL suit, which is currently helping hundreds of Japanese patients with weak muscles get around. Additional notable suits include Kobalab's muscle suit and Nasa's X-1 suit.

As for prosthetic limbs, MIT's Biomechatronics research group is making outstanding strides, no pun intended. Led by Dr. Hugh Herr, an amputee himself, MIT's artificial limbs are able to emulate muscle movements. Dr. Herr's goals are to create bionic limbs that can outperform real ones. Just recently, he spoke at TED on bionic limbs, confidently strutting around showing off his own advanced artificial limbs.

In the talk he mentioned his story of meeting Adrianne Haslet-Davis, a dance teacher who lost a leg in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. After 200 days of extensive research and work, Haslet-Davis received a bionic leg from MIT's labs, which will allow her to dance again. She did so for the first time since her tragedy on the TED stage after Dr. Hugh's speech. She is also expected to cross the finish line in this year's Boston Marathon today.

Now, the Cybathlon has been announced, which, unlike the traditional Olympics, encourages its participants to employ the latest technologies to their advantage to push human abilities. So far, six competitive areas have been announced in which participants will compete. These will include a powered prosthetic arm competition, an exo-skeleton race, and an electrical stimulation race. For the electrical stimulation race, competitors will control an avatar in a computer racing game. The game is designed for participants who may be paralyzed from the neck down.

Devices for the competition can be devices that may already exist and are commercially available or devices that are prototypes from research labs. For each event two medals will be awarded, one for the winning participant and one for the company or institution that developed the device.

The games are set to take place in Switzerland in October 2016.

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