Students Staff

06 October 2016

Mind power put to the test as Essex heads for bionic Olympics

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The Essex BrainStormers team.

Essex researchers are heading off to Zurich this weekend to take part in the world’s first ‘bionic Olympics’ – Cybathlon.

The University’s BrainStormers team, led by PhD student Ana Matran-Fernandez, will take part in the Brain Computer Interface Race where ‘pilots’ have to control a video game just with their thoughts.

Cybathlon is intended to highlight how people with physical disabilities can be helped by novel technological aids in their everyday activities. The event, which has attracted 50 teams from around the world, will involve individuals competing side-by-side in six demanding disciplines, using the latest assistive technologies including electronic arms and legs, robotic exoskeletons, powered wheelchairs, electrical muscle stimulations and brain-computer interfaces.

David Rose, who was paralysed from the shoulders down 29 years ago when he broke his neck in a diving accident, will be the ‘pilot’ for the BrainStormers team.

Such is the level of concentration needed for the event, Mr Rose has been training for nearly two years in preparation. The race will involve moving an avatar in a computer game using thought commands. He will wear a special cap covered in electrodes which record the signals from the brain and send them to the computer, where they are interpreted as commands.

Organised by the Swiss university ETH Zurich, Cybathlon’s goal is to encourage engineers to create assistive products that better suit people with disabilities.

Looking ahead to the Cybathlon, Ana said: “A lot of work has been put into this project by the whole team. We have learnt a lot in the past two years and we hope we will do well.

“Working on projects like this is so rewarding as it gives you the chance of making a difference in people's lives. This competition has pushed each team to get the best possible systems in time for the race, creating advances in research and technology along the way. The technologies being showcased in Cybathlon have the potential to revolutionise the lives of people with severe physical disabilities. The Cybathlon is an excellent platform to showcase these human performance-enhancing technologies and show them to the whole world.”

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