CNBI’s “Brain Tweakers” wins the Cybathlon BCI race

Saturday 8th of October 2016 saw the first Cybathlon championship for athletes with disabilities held in the SWISS Arena (Kloten, Zurich), under the auspices of NCCR Robotics and ETH Zurich. The Cybathlon featured as the first bionic para-Olympics event and encompassed six different disciplines. Each discipline consisted in various tasks accomplished by disabled athletes by means of skillfully piloting robotic and other assistive devices.
CNBI participated in the BCI race discipline, a virtual race whereby an avatar running through a computer game is controlled by a Brain-Computer Interface (BCI). The competing pilots should be able to timely forward three different brain commands in order to make their avatar speed up, jump over or slide under obstacles at three corresponding color-coded “pads” composing the race track. A fourth type of pad rewards the pilot’s ability to avoid unintentional commands. The Brain Tweakers engineering team, a group of CNBI’s PhD students and post-doctoral fellows, developed a motor imagery BCI based on our lab’s previous work, allowing our pilots to optimally drive their avatar towards the finish line. Technical developments went hand-in-hand with intense, bi-weekly pilot training sessions, where user feedback proved to be invaluable.
Having returned victorious from last year’s unofficial Cybathlon rehearsal, the CNBI-based team maintained and re-confirmed its superiority over the competition, vastly dominating the tournament. Brain Tweakers competed with two tetraplegic pilots, 48-year old Eric Anselmo and 30-year-old Numa Poujouly. Both our pilots qualified to the discipline’s final marking the top-two performances in the entire tournament. Eric achieved a mind-blowing 90” record in the qualification round, more than 40” ahead of the best time marked by another team throughout the tournament. While a momentary loss of performance has costed him a medal in the final, Numa took over to capture the gold medal for himself and the title for Brain Tweakers!.
CNBI is now working to capitalize on this unique and rewarding experience in order to increase the translational impact of our work. We are naturally also looking forward to defend our title in the next Cybathlon championship, putting into practice the most recent advances of our research. A big thanks to our pilots and congratulations to all members of our team. Go Brain Tweakers!