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First Ever Cyborg Olympics Are Coming This Fall

ETH Zurich

While the U.S. Paralympics has been around since 2001, the world has yet to see an Olympics for disabled athletes who are electronically enhanced. Until now.

This October in Zurich will mark the very first cyborg Olympics or "Cybathlon"—a competition open to those with disabilities who use the latest assistive technology to help them complete daily tasks, the website explains. The event is being organized by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich) and will contain courses for amputees who use motorized prosthetic legs and prosthetic arms, as well as paraplegics who use robotic exoskeletons and motorized wheelchairs.

Rather than focusing on force or speed, the Cybathon is more about control of the body and the device being used. The athletes—which are being dubbed "pilots"—will compete in various courses specifically designed to mimic everyday activities by using robotic devices controlled by their minds, or basically remote controls. For example, for competitors with prosthetic arms, contests include slicing loaves of bread and opening jars of jam. These everyday tasks may go unnoticed for some, but quite challenging for those who rely on this type of robotic technology.

Unlike the Paralympics which prohibits motorized equipment, the Cybathon is clearly all about celebrating it. The idea for the competition spawned from the frustration of Cybathon organizer Robert Riener, who develops robotic rehabilitation systems at ETH Zurich. Riener was dissatisfied with the technologies currently available for disabled people, reports IEEE Spectrum. The aim of Cybathon will be to drive innovation in assistive tech so these tools can be more useful for daily activities.

While there are currently 80 teams from all over the world expected to compete at the Cybathon in Switzerland, Riener tells IEEE that he hopes to host the next Cybathon in Tokyo to coincide with the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. Here's hoping slicing bread could soon become the next fan favorite event.


Kylie Gilbert

Kylie is the associate editor for and She is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and Integrated Marketing Communications.

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