Avatars and exoskeletons to feature in world’s first Bionic Olympics in 2016

Switzerland will be host to the first Cybathlon, an Olympics designed specifically for bionic athletes, in 2016.

There will be races for competitors wearing prosthetic limbs and exoskeletons, while a brain-computer interface will be designed for competitors who are paralysed from the neck down. Controlling an avatar using the interface, paralysed competitors will be able to pilot it through a virtual race.

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The National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Robotics is hosting the competition to boost interest in emerging human-oriented robotics technologies.

Unlike the Olympics and the Paralympics, participants in the Bionic Olympics will be actively encouraged to use the best technology to get a one-up over the competition. "There will be as few technical constraints as possible," the organisation website says, "in order to encourage the device providers to develop novel and powerful solutions."

All of the devices used in the Cybathlon will be able to make use of commercially available products, which will provided by participating companies.

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Races will also be held for those wearing arm or leg prosthetics and those in wheelchairs. Two medals will be given for each competition, one for the pilot and one for the company that developed the participating robot.

"The idea is that we want to push development of assistive technologies towards devices that patients can really use in everyday life," Professor Robert Reiner, the event organiser, told the BBC. "Some of the current technologies look very fancy but are a long way from being practical and user-friendly."

The other main aim of the bionic Olympics will be to allow people who have never had the chance to compete before an opportunity to represent their countries.