A BCI Competition – Cybathlon 2016

The Cybathlon will take place on October 8th, 2016 at the ETH Zurich. It is the very first Cybathlon that motivates people with disabilities to compete side by side in six domains, using the latest assistive technologies. One of these domains is the Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) Race.

BCI Race 4Cybathlon BCI Race at ETH Zurich (c) Alessandro Della Bella

The pilots in this competition typically have complete or substantial loss of motor function (i.e. paralysis) below the neck due to Spinal Cord Injury (SCI), stroke, neurological disease or another lesion. Therefore, the teams participating in the BCI race use BCIs based on the electroencephalography (EEG). g.tec is supporting several teams that are competing in the BCI Race such as the WHi Team. We talked with Luca Tonin, who attended the rehearsal as a member of the WHi Team of University of Padova in 2015.

BCI Race 3Luca Tonin at Cybathlon BCI Race, ETH Zurich

g.tec: How was the rehearsal for the BCI Race for you? How did you feel about the strong engagement and motivation of the competitors?

Luca Tonin: “Well, it was an amazing experience. It was really nice to see all the people compete in the different disciplines. About the BCI Race, I was really satisfied with how it went. Our pilot was scared and stressed about the race at the beginning. In fact, the first run didn’t go so well. After another two rounds, the results were quite good. We even won the second round. The third round, we achieved the second best time. But, all in all, I can say that this was a very new and fascinating experience to see all these disabled people who were so motivated. Even though it’s a competition, the teams got along pretty well with each other, because they all felt the same. I got the feeling that competition per se was just a side effect.”

BCI Race 2Team WHI from University of Padua

g.tec: What is the BCI Race exactly about?

Luca Tonin: “So everyone is playing the same game. It is a game where the pilots have to control a small avatar via BCI. The avatar goes straight with a certain command, but the challenge is to avoid or overcome obstacles. You have to jump or roll below. It is very difficult because the pilot has to send the correct command, like jumping or rolling, at the correct time. But with BCI at the Cybathlon, it is not so easy, because the only feedback the pilot gets is the avatar in the game. It was actually really nice because, in this arena in Zurich, all the people were watching the game. So, when the pilots didn’t send the correct command to the avatar, all the people started to scream and empathize with the pilots. It was really emotional.”

BCI Race 5BCI Race at Cybathlon Rehearsal 2015

g.tec: Whats the main purpose of the Cybathlon? Are there only people with disabilities competing, or do research groups compete as well?

Luca Tonin: “The main purpose of the Cybathlon is to boost BCI research in order to develop applications that can be used in daily lives of people with disabilities – and not just in the lab. I think the Cybathlon is a great opportunity to find out whether research goes in the right direction, and therefore to push research a little more.”

BCI Race 1WHI-BCI Team at Cybathlon Rehearsal 2015

g.tec: What is your research about? What are your goals?

Luca Tonin: “My field of research is BCI. The main focus is on the optimization of BCI applications to use BCIs outside the lab, particularly in daily life. It is still very challenging to put together a cap and an application that makes you able to control complex devices. Another part of my research is BCI for rehabilitation of cognitive disabilities.”

g.tec: Thanks for the chat, Luca.

Watch the Trailer of the BCI Race at Cybathlon 2016:

Watch the Trailer of the Cybathlon 2016:

Cybathlon 2016
BCI Race at Cybathlon 2016

Brain-Computer Interface (BCI)