A large section of the Skolkovo Technopark was turned into an obstacle course with a difference this week, as people of all ages raced to complete a course that included walking up some steps while holding a tray of apples, opening a door at the top of the stairs and descending the steps before kicking a football into a goal: all everyday tasks that suddenly become near-impossible if you are in a wheelchair or missing one or more of your limbs.

The racetrack for prosthetic hand wearers included the task of moving objects of various shapes and sizes from one table to another. Photo: Sk.ru.

The Cybathletics competition was held on Thursday and Friday as part of the Promise of Tech forum devoted to developing a long-term strategy for the development of the rehabilitation industry in Russia. The forum – organised by Russia’s Trade and Industry Ministry, the Skolkovo innovation centre and AURA-Tekh association of assistive technologies – is a chance for wheelchair users and wearers of prostheses to meet with companies making assistive technology devices and startups working on innovative technology. The obstacle course reflects how technology can help disabled people – and where it is still lacking.

Alexander Pankratov, who wears a prosthetic hand, is no stranger to this kind of competition, having taking part in the world’s first international Cybathlon in Zurich last year. He had taken part in the Cybathletics competition on Thursday wearing an I-Limb Quantum bionic hand made by the Icelandic company OSSUR, as part of a team put forward by Orto Kosmos, a Russian company that provides and fits prosthetic limbs.

“I managed to do three of five tasks: I changed a lightbulb, hung clothes on coat hangers and pegs and did up a zip and buttons on those clothes, and then I successfully moved objects from one table to another,” Pankratov told Sk.ru on Friday.

The youngest participants proved to be skilled skateboarders, as well as mastering the obstacle course. Photo: Sk.ru.

He was less lucky in the task to move a metal hoop around a wire without touching it, and was given conflicting advice regarding the rules by judges in a task to take items out of a cupboard and arrange them on a tray, he said. Overall the track was similar to that in Zurich, he added.

Those taking part in the course for people wearing prosthetic legs faced different tasks, as demonstrated Friday by three small boys wearing four prosthetic legs between them, who first had to sit down and get up from an armchair several times, before stepping over some raised obstacles, jumping from one stepping stone to the next, walking up and down stairs while carrying a tray of apples, then kicking a football into a goal.

Igor and Vladimir, two young men who were each wearing two full prosthetic legs, expressed disappointment that they were competing in the same category as people wearing only one prosthetic limb, and expressed hope that there would be a separate category for them in future events.  

Alexander Pankratov took part in the Cybathletics wearing an I-Limb Quantum bionic hand made by the Icelandic company OSSUR. Photo: Sk.ru.

Other cybathletes, who included people navigating the obstacle course in wheelchairs and others controlling a computer game character via a brain-computer interface, said they came to the event to make new friends, enjoy being with a large group of other active prosthesis wearers and exchange tips with them, and meet those who make prostheses.

The conference part of the programme included sessions on how to get disabled people into sport and return them to an active life, making places accessible to people with disabilities, financial and other support measures for innovative projects in the field of rehabilitation, and a presentation of innovative projects working on rehabilitation for investors active in the health sector.

The obstacle course for adapted wheelchair users included tackling some steps. Photo: Sk.ru.

In the latter session, four Skolkovo startups were presented to an audience of investors: DRD Biotech, the maker of an express test for diagnosing strokes and brain damage; Iskra, which presented its Sputnik project of a smart bracelet that both allows the wearer to call an ambulance by pressing a button, and contains the wearer’s medical notes, accessible from the bracelet via a USB connection; CryoTechnoMed, which has designed machines for cooling the brain temperature in order to improve health outcomes after brain injury or lack of blood flow, and Cosyma, which is developing robotised rehabilitation equipment to help restore the motor functions in neurology patients.

The Skolkovo Foundation is among the founding members of the Russian Cybathlon Federation, which was set up last year to develop the creation of technology to help disabled people following the international Cybathlon in Zurich.