UKZN and NMU set to represent SA in global Cybathlon championship
The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and Nelson Mandela University (NMU) are gearing up to represent South Africa in the 2020 Global Cybathlon Championship hosted by Switzerland.
UKZN and NMU, with the support of the Robotics Association of South Africa, are the only participants selected from Africa. The cybathlon will take place on November 13 and 14.
It is an international multisport event with 60 teams from 20 countries, consisting of people with physical disabilities, competing against each other to complete everyday tasks using state-of-the-art technical assistance systems.
The two-day tournament is organised under the umbrella of public research university, ETHZürich, and serves to advance research in the field of assistive technology and promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in everyday life.
Team SA – made up of researchers, academics and post-graduate students – is led by UKZN lecturer in the discipline of mechanical engineering, Professor Riaan Stopforth.
Stopforth was selected by the National Centre for Competence in Research (NCCR) Robotics in Switzerland, to compete in the Powered Arm Prosthesis Race for the innovative design of the Touch Hand – a low-cost arm prosthesis that was originally designed by Stopforth and UKZN MSc graduate, Drew van der Riet, in 2013.
Since then, Stopforth has worked with other scholars to improve on the design.
The selected teams comprises a technology developer and a person with a disability, referred to as a pilot, who is expected to carry out several predetermined tasks across six stations, using the assistance technology.
The tasks in the race are designed to reflect everyday activities that can be challenging for people with disabilities, for example, tying a shoelace, buttoning a coat, slicing bread or opening a tin can. While solving the respective tasks in competition, it is shown how well the developed technology is suited to support the pilot in everyday life.
“The true purpose of our research and development is to make a difference in a person’s life, not money. And that is what drives and motivates us,” said Stopforth.
Team SA has been developing this prosthesis with the aim of making it affordable for low-income households and countries, while still incorporating advanced technologies.
They believe that the cybathlon is a good opportunity to assess where they stand, and are thrilled to celebrate the event and their work.
“The pilots (persons with disabilities) encounter many barriers, many of which we don’t even notice. We often think that we understand what they go through every day, but that’s not the case.”
However, due to the pandemic, teams will not be travelling to Zurich, Switzerland, this year. The cybathlon will take place in its new digital format, at each team’s home country. Teams will set up their infrastructure, according to Swiss regulations, for the competition and will film their races.
Instead of starting directly next to each other, the pilots will start individually and under the supervision of cybathlon officials. The competitions will broadcast from Zurich through an unique live programme. The organising committee will support the teams remotely and the officials will also act as referees and perform the required technical and medical checks.
The qualifying races will take place on Friday, November 13, and qualifying teams will go on to participate in the finals on Saturday, November 14.