Moscow will see its first ever Cybathlon on August 13 for users of bionic prosthetic hands and arms, organised by Skolkovo resident Motorica, which makes roboticised prosthetic hands for children and adults.
The official trailer for the Cybathlon 2016, which will take place in Zurich, Switzerland on October 8.
This weekend’s event at the VDNKh park and exhibition centre – in which participants will compete to pick up and move around everyday objects using their prosthetic hands with the maximum dexterity – is being billed as the Russian stage of the world’s first international Cybathlon, which will take place in Zurich in October. But the organisers’ main aim is to establish a community of prosthesis users, Motorica’s co-founder Vasily Khlebnikov told Sk.ru.
“It’s not really a competition as such. Our primary objective is to get people together and tell them about the Cybathlon and introduce them to our pilots, so they can ask questions,” he said.
The pilots in question will compete at the international Cybathlon on October 8 using Motorica’s Stradivary bionic prosthetic hands, having been practising their skills with a trainer from the Paralympics team since June. While the emphasis of Saturday’s event in Moscow is not on competition, the winner will accompany the Motorica team to Switzerland as an observer.
Motorica, a resident company of the Skolkovo Foundation’s biomed cluster, is expecting about 10 participants in Saturday’s event at VDNKh’s Pavilion No. 2, but is keen for any prosthesis users – both adults and children – to attend, even if they don’t want to try their hand at the Cybathlon course.
“In Russia there isn’t a community, so we decided to create one, to show people that there are hi-tech prostheses, that you can learn how to use them, that they really are more effective, that they can really make a difference to people’s everyday lives,” said Khlebnikov.
“Because sometimes even when people get these kinds of prostheses, they don’t always learn how to use them,” he explained, adding that Motorica also encourages prosthesis users to contact the company via their website in order to build up a Russian network.
“Our task is to get people together: if people don’t want to try the tasks set up, it’s not at all compulsory,” he said.
Pilots preparing to take part in the international Cybathlon pictured with their trainer. Photo: Motorica.
At the international Cybathlon in Zurich, 74 athletes from 25 countries will demonstrate how robotic technology helps them in their daily lives, in what the event’s organisers describe as “the world’s first trial of bionic strength.” That competition is not just for users of robotic prosthetic hands, but also for wheelchair users and prosthetic leg-wearers, and will feature tasks such as opening cans with a robotic hand, hopping from stone to stone on prosthetic legs, or moving swiftly over uneven surfaces in a wheelchair.
The focus on everyday activities is the main difference between the Cybathlon and the Paralympic Games, according to Khlebnikov.
“It’s about everyday life … not about superhuman physical abilities,” he said.
The aim of the Cybathlon, which was founded by Robert Riener, a professor for sensory-motor systems at ETH Zurich science and technology university, is to draw attention to the needs of disabled people and to encourage researchers and developers to work on new assistive technologies to help them. To that end, a symposium of scientists will take place on October 6, just before the Cybathlon.
“The Cybathlon preparations have really opened our eyes to the needs of people with physical disabilities,” Riener said via a press release devoted to the event.
“Too many of us know too little about the everyday problems that people with disabilities face in our society – that’s something we want to change,” he added.
The challenges in the international Cybathlon are designed to closely resemble everyday tasks. Photo: ETH Zurich / Alessandro Della Bella.
The technology competing at the Cybathlon will include both products that are already available on the market and prototypes from research labs.
Motorica’s prostheses, which are created using a 3D printer, are not only on the market; they are provided to users free of charge under the Russian health system. Several children have already seen their lives transformed by Motorica’s brightly coloured kids’ prostheses, which aim to replace the tradition perception of prostheses as medical equipment with the concept of a modern gadget that turns the children, in the company’s words, “into superheroes.” The company, which is based at Skolkovo’s Hypercube, achieves this by incorporating extra functions such as an MP3 player, video camera or control pad into its prostheses.
The Stradivary prosthesis that will be used at the international Cybathlon is designed for adults and incorporates smartwatch functions, such as WiFi access and a touch-screen display, enabling wearers to access their email account and social networks. It can also be used as a remote control for household objects ranging from the kettle to the television, and its appearance can be customized in accordance with the wearer’s wishes. The Stradivary, which is currently fitted from the wrist, is expected to hit the market this autumn, and later versions that can be fitted from the elbow, upper arm and shoulder are planned.
Motorica’s work was recently demonstrated to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Strategic Initiatives Forum in Moscow, where Ksenia, a six-year-old girl with a bright pink prosthetic hand made by Motorica, showed the president how her new hand has enabled her to use a skipping rope, among many other things.
The company’s director Ilya Chekh will open a conference devoted to the development of the hi-tech prosthesis market in Russia that will take place at Moscow’s Digital October centre on Thursday, August 11. He will be joined at the conference by Kleiber Bionics, another Skolkovo startup making bionic prosthetic hands, and by Albert Yefimov, head of the Skolkovo Foundation’s Robocentre.
The Russian Cybathlon will take place at Pavilion No. 2 in VDNKh from 11 a.m. on August 13.