International sporting competition for disabled athletes using bionic assistive technology

The Cybathlon is a multi-sport event, an international competition in which people with physical disabilities compete against each other to complete everyday tasks using state-of-the-art technical assistance Systems ("pilots"). Besides the actual competition, the Cybathlon offers a platform to drive forward research on assistance systems for everyday use, and to promote dialogue with the public.

The first Cybathlon organised by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich) took place in the Swiss Arena in Kloten north of Zurich in Switzerland on 8 October 2016 and was the first international competition of this kind.[1][2][3] 66 pilots from 25 nations competed in front of a stadium with approximately 4600 spectators.

The 2020 Cybathlon took place on 13–14 November 2020. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic necessitated that this “Global Edition” take place remotely, with teams setting up the infrastructure for the competition at their home bases and with the races, overseen by Cybathlon officials, taking place via video.[4]


Robert Riener, head of the professorship for Sensory-Motor Systems at ETH Zurich, initiated the Cybathlon in 2013 as a platform for the development of everyday-suitable assistance systems.

The Cybathlon comes out of a collaboration with the Swiss National Center of Competence in Robotics Research, which intends to use the competition to promote the development and widespread use of bionic technology.[3] The event organised under the umbrella of ETH Zurich is supported financially as well as ideologically by partners and through patronage.

Whereas other international competitions for disabled athletes, such as the Paralympics, only permit competitors to use unpowered assistive technology, the Cybathlon encourages the use of performance-enhancing technology such as powered exoskeletons.[3]

Teams can compete in six different disciplines. A team always consists of a pilot (person with a disability that meets the inclusion criteria of the respective discipline) and a technology provider (university or company) who work closely together. Currently, the split is about 70% with a university and 30 % with a company background (e.g. manufacturers of commercially available prostheses).


The six disciplines of Cybathlon 2016 remain the same for Cybathlon 2020 - however, there will be new challenges. Teams compete on courses designed to test how well suited a given technology is to helping its user with everyday tasks, for example climbing stairs or opening doors. In each discipline several pilots compete simultaneously. The tasks and rules are defined in detail for each of the six disciplines. Most important is that the pilots complete the tasks correct, safe and secure. Time comes in as a secondary factor.[5]

  • Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) Race: In the BCI race, pilots with quadriplegia use brain-computer interfaces to control avatars in a computer game. The aim of this technology is to control devices such as wheelchairs for people with limited ability to move.
  • Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) Bike Race: The FES race is for pilots with paraplegia. Functional electrical stimulation is enabling them to perform a pedalling movement on a recumbent bicycle.
  • Powered Arm Prosthesis Race: In this race, pilots using an arm prosthesis on one or both sides can compete. The prosthesis has to include the wrist and can be navigated with any kind of control.
  • Powered Leg Prosthesis Race: In this race, pilots using a leg prosthesis on one or both sides, including a knee joint, have to perform various movements. They can use any kind of active or passive prosthetic device.
  • Powered Exoskeleton Race: In this race, pilots with complete thoracic or lumbar spinal cord injury can compete using an exoskeleton. This wearable, powered support enables them to walk and master other everyday tasks.
  • Powered Wheelchair Race: In this race, pilots with severe walking disability using a powered wheelchair can compete. The wheelchairs feature novel technologies to overcome obstacles such as stairs or doors.

Cybathlon 2016

Medals were awarded to both the athletes themselves and to the companies or institutions that create their bionics.[6]

Competitions were organized in such a way that the participants could demonstrate not only their own skills, but also the distinctive qualities of bionomic tools. For example, in the category of "hand prostheses", competitors attempted several food-related fine motor tasks and in the category "Neuro" the participants managed avatars in a specially designed computer game.[7]

The winners:

  • Brain-Computer Interface Race: Numa Poujouly - Team Brain Tweakers (Switzerland)
  • Functional Electrical Stimulation Bike Race: Mark Muhn - Team Cleveland (US)
  • Powered Arm Prosthesis Race: Robert (Bob) Radocy - Team Dipo Power (Netherlands)
  • Powered Exoskeleton Race: Andre Van Ruschen - Team ReWalk (Germany)
  • Powered Leg Prosthesis Race: Helgi Sveinsson - Team Rheo Knee (Iceland)
  • Powered Wheelchair Race: Florian Hauser - Team HSR Enhanced (Switzerland)[7]

Video links

BCI[8] race

FES[9] bike race

Powered arm prosthesis race

Powered leg prosthesis race

Powered exoskeleton race

Powered wheelchair race


  1. ^ "Bionic Olympics to be hosted in 2016". BBC. 27 March 2014. Retrieved 28 March 2014.
  2. ^ "Cybathlon". Retrieved 20 October 2014.
  3. ^ a b c "Switzerland to host the first Cybathlon, an Olympics for bionic athletes". The Verge. 26 March 2014. Retrieved 28 March 2014.
  4. ^ "CYBATHLON 2020 Global Edition". Retrieved 2021-07-21.
  5. ^ "Races and Disciplines". Retrieved 2019-08-02.
  6. ^ "Bionic Olympics to be hosted in 2016". BBC. 27 March 2014. Retrieved 28 March 2014.
  7. ^ a b Cybathlon: Battle of the bionic athletes, BBC
  8. ^ Brain-Computer Interface
  9. ^ Functional Electrical Simulation

External links

  • Official website and YouTube channel
  • "Cybathlon 2016: first 'Olympics' for bionic athletes". Wired UK. 27 March 2014.