Transhumanists, rejoice! No, the nerd rapture hasn’t happened - but we’re getting a little closer, at least. On October 8, the world’s very first cyborg games will open in Zurich, Switzerland featuring such events as the powered exoskeleton race, brain computer interface race, and functional electrical stimulation (FES) bike race.

While there aren’t hand-to-claw cyborg deathmatches complete with laser beam eye weapons yet (fingers crossed for next year), most of the races feature more practical and groundbreaking assistive technologies that can allow people who are paralyzed or missing limbs the chance to compete in events that otherwise would be impossible.

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Many of the exoskeletons and prostheses competitors will use at the Cybathlon are being tested for use in everyday assistive technologies.

The games are a chance for assistive technology developers and roboticists to not only  show off their new prototypes, but also to spread awareness about the difficulties faced by people with disabilities. The “Cybathlon,” as the games are called, are a joint project between the National Centre of Competence in Research robotics professor Robert Riener and Swiss university ETH Zurich.

Robotic limbs might soon by a regular option for amputees.

According to the official website for the games, the games have three main aims:

[...] to facilitate conversation between academia and industry, to facilitate discussion between technology developers and people with disabilities, and to promote the use of robotic assistive aids to the general public.

The different events at the Cybathlon are varied and wide-reaching. In the brain-computer interface (BCI) races, competitors with complete or severe loss of motor function will use only their minds to control avatars in a specially-produced video game. In the exoskeleton races meanwhile, paralyzed pilots will navigate an obstacle course while wearing powered mobility suits.

The Cybathlon comes on the heels of other recent newly-developed competitions to pit cyborgs against one another - well, the closest thing we have to cyborgs, anyway. Earlier this year, teams from several research universities competed in brain-computer interfaced drone races, and Dubai is set to host the first all-robot World Future Sports Games next year. Sorry, puny humans: the future of sport seems to be for the more technologically advanced residents of Earth.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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