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SFU team competes in Zurich in Cyborg Olympics

Students Erina Cho and Chakaveh Ahmadizadeh explain what it was like to showcase their bionic arm

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Image Credits: ETH Zurich

SFU researchers were tested on the world stage on October 8 at ETH Zurich’s Cybathlon — the first ever Cyborg Olympics.

The researchers’ bionic arm, which was developed to act as a more intuitive prosthetic arm for amputees, competed with the world’s best cyborg inventions. This inspired the innovators, and fostered a deeper passion for creating better technology to serve those with disabilities.

Their intricate bionic arm was created to give amputees an easier-to-use prosthetic option, as many individuals were simply avoiding prosthetics due to their unintuitive user interface.The team worked with Danny Letain, a paralympic skier who lost his arm 35 years ago. He helped to test the bionic arm and improve the lack of control that he experienced with previous prosthetics, such as the use of mechanical straps and hooks in order to use the arm, SFU University Communications reported.

Erina Cho and Chakaveh Ahmadizadeh, members of the research and development team, explained that they decided to address this problem by creating an arm that uses muscle movement, pattern recognition, and pressure sensors to differentiate between gestures and create a more intuitive user interface for a prosthetic arm.

Media outlets, as well as those participating in the Cybathlon, have been fascinated with this invention. “It just goes to show how much people really care about helping others and how people with disabilities should have their quality of life improved,” Cho explained. “So I think that we took [the attention] as a really good thing.”

The event brought even more attention to the invention, and the high-pressure environment made for an unexpected outcome. Ahmadizadeh elaborated that, “when it came to the competition, there are many factors we didn’t expect to encounter.” They had rehearsed extensively prior to the competition, yet Cho said that “there are a lot of effects on the competition stage where you have a lot of adrenaline and psychological factors where the physiology of the body reacts differently — and we rely on those signals.” The team mentioned that the difficulties they had were due to the physiological response to stress. The arm relies on these physiological responses, and the team had not practiced using the arm in such a high-stress situation, like the competition environment.

Though the competition did not go as planned for the group, it only inspired momentum to make the bionic arm even better. “It was really inspirational — it just gave us another thing to work on!” Cho said.  

The other amazing cyborg inventions also acted as a source of inspiration. “It was really neat to see that there were groups from other countries, other research groups have other ideas to tackle the problem. Same with other disciplines — there are ones with wheelchairs and exoskeletons,” said Cho.

“Overall, it’s a really positive experience. We are all making an effort, it’s all research and development.”

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