Team Gray Matter is a non-profit, independent team, primarily created around the team’s pilot, Peter Gray of Doncaster, England. The team is made up of entrepreneurs and academics focused on developing a BCI device that will offer Peter a competitive chance at winning the BCI race. We spoke to Ivan Nixon from Team Gray Matter about the rehearsal of the Cybathlon in 2015. He is a creative entrepreneur and has established the team, strategy and partnerships in order to get Pete to Cybathlon 2016.
Ivan, what is your profession?
Ivan Nixon: “I am VP of UK & Europe for Endurance Robots, an exciting Global start-up company in the robotics industry.”
Why are you participating in the Cybathlon 2016 in Zurich? What is your motivation?
Ivan Nixon: “We signed up for the BCI race before we really knew much about BCI technology. When I came across a news article about the Cybathlon around three years ago, it suggested that the BCI discipline would suit participants with complete paralysis from neck level, and having spent a lot of time looking for opportunities to get my friend and the team’s pilot, Peter Gray, back into some form of competitive activity, Cybathlon seemed like the perfect opportunity. So we put together a team and made the necessary moves to give Peter the best possible chance of success in the competition, and the motivation comes from being able to create a situation that has him training with a quality team of people regularly, getting involved with all kinds of other research around assistive technologies, and generally getting back to some of the activities he was able to do before his accident.”
How was the Preliminary BCI Race for you? How did it go? What positive or negative experiences did you make?
Ivan Nixon: “The rehearsals turned out to be a bit of “dry run” for us. We had a few problems with our device upon arriving to Zurich and come race time, we weren’t certain of our ability to be competitive in the races. In the end, that was in fact the case. But attending the rehearsals wasn’t just about testing the tech and racing in the heats, it was also about learning what challenges we would face actually getting Peter to the event. It was the first time he had travelled outside of the UK since his accident. In hindsight, the problems and difficulties that we had to overcome that week will provide invaluable experience when we head to Zurich again in October.”
How do you feel about the strong engagement and motivation of the disabled competitors?
Ivan Nixon: “There weren’t too many BCI pilots at the rehearsals, so we didn’t get chance to find out whether the feeling was consistent with the other competitors in our discipline. At least for Peter, and from the bits of media we’ve seen from other teams, it seems that everyone is very committed and really starting to feel the competitive buzz. Whilst a lot of the focus is on the technology, the whole Cybathlon competition still very much creates the atmosphere of a sporting event. Training is a critical component for the pilots, and it is their efforts – along with the hard work of the teams engineering the device and overseeing training – that will result in success come October. What Peter and the team have done so far, and what they continue to do, is nothing short of inspirational. You simply wouldn’t get that level of effort and motivation without strong engagement in the competition and what it is trying to accomplish.”
Tell us more about your experiences with using g.Nautilus.
Ivan Nixon: “Having only tried a couple of other systems, we can’t provide really deep insight, but there are so many advantages to the g.Nautilus over other devices that we’ve used, at least for Peter and our team. Dry electrodes and wireless connectivity offer many excellent benefits, such as being able to quickly apply and remove the cap, not having to use gel, not having a bunch of cables hanging down the back of the user’s neck, and with it not needing mains connectivity, it pretty much presents zero risk.”
Are you going to win the BCI Race?
Ivan Nixon: “The team’s main aim is to provide Peter with everything he needs to ensure that where he finishes in the race is totally on him. If we can guarantee him that, I’d bet on it being very difficult to stop Pete from taking Gold.”