Should we take interest in the Cybathlon 2016? [website check]

The idea of the Paradrom Rathausen was uber cool.

Who knows, this might be even cooler. Check 'er out!

 The website and program









Wow. Well. The Cybathlon tries to get amputees to a puppet master conference for comparing funny grip ideas against each other with the apparent goal of getting "bionic" hand owners to win. That goal is worded with explicit terms here, where they state ""the rules of the competition should be designed in such way that the design of the novel technology gives the pilot an advantage over a pilot that would theoretically use a comparable but less advanced or conventional assistive technology". This is a brand hot claim, seeing as if the makers of this series of tests want "bionic" devices to win and as that, they seem to be oblivious to technical history (link): they did their darnedest to get what they believed is the more modern technology to win; now, consider this as a fact: hands, hand shapes, hand forms, are a prosthetic idea that dates back centuries, thus the idea to replace an absent hand with something that also looks like a hand it relatively old; the by far newer idea is to wear a skeletonized reduced hand shape that embodies everyday object shape negatives (you read that here first too, didn't you) in form of a combined power and precision grip, a shape that is rigid and thus predictable as a gripper (which is key to predictable gripping - link), which are the newer modern split hooks and prehensors. While the creators of the Cybathlon confuse "hook" - as in a simple hook, as it may have been worn by fictional pirates - with the intricate design details and practical advantages of a Hosmer model 5 or 6 "split hook", they also ignore the engineering that went into these. Plus the history of myoelectric arms and the constant performance decay (!) across 40 years of research - so, if all things play out we might be ind for a surprise there. By their own definition, the 2016 and 2020 Cybathlon Prosthetic Arm race outcomes, both being won by modern body-powered grippers, confirm historical truths: that well built prosthetic split-hooks and their prehensor-like offspring as even more modern designs beat the old, stale and bulky hand shapes. Fascinating, that Federal Office of Technology allows themselves to word stuff like that (link).

Now, if it was about getting  hand/s dirty with prosthetics, they'd a aksed me ; )

However, I don't ever button my shirts or tie my shoe laces really, I hardly ever train my daily wire loops and I most certainly cannot be bothered practicing how to pick up coins using the prosthetic.

Now until 2016, I certainly will have cut my hedges a few times, cleaned my house a few, pulled off some other heavy lift type stuff, sewn myself new curtains, turned a few more pieces of meat on my grill - but all these pansy boy thingies there? Would you want to get caught doing these? Honestly. And, why is that.

Stakeholders, board, advisory team

On another note, it is somewhat intriguing to see who all seems to care about arm amputees completing this thing... so, from the Cybathlon website [link; Nov 25th, 2013]:

The Cybathlon Advisory Board

Frank Bodin (advertisement), Thomas Böni (orthopedic physician), Gery Colombo (CEO robotics), Richard Ernst (Nobelprize winner), Dario Floreano (roboticist), Walter Frey (Swiss Olympic/Ski), Felix Gutzwiller (Ständerat), Thomas Heiniger (Regierungsrat), Christoph Joho (event organisator), Christian Larsen (physician), Corine Mauch (Stadtpräsidentin), Martin Scholl (CEO banking), Rolf Pfeifer (roboticist), Joachim Schoss (entrepreneur)

  • Actual prosthetic arm engineers that reportedly or knowingly built a working arm in their life time: 0/14.
  • Actual marketing: 2/14
  • Amputees with a strong profile in prosthetic testing: 0/14

The Cybathlon Executive Board and Consultants

Sunil Agrawal, Anil Aksoz, Russ Angold, Roland Auberger, Volker Bartenbach, Thomas Böni, Rainer Burgkart, Rory Cooper, Armin Curt, Dario Floreano, Walter Frey, John Frijters, Markus Gross, Moritz Grosse-Wentrup, Christoph Guger, Levi Hargrove, Michael Hofer, Ken Hunt, Urs Keller, Stefan Kupsch, Laura Marchal-Crespo, Bertolt Meyer, Silvestro Micera, Jose Millan, Gernot Müller-Putz, Peter Neuhaus, Domen Novak, Anna Pagel, Jessica Pedersen, Alessandra Pedrocchi, Rolf Pfeifer, Serge Pfeifer, Milos Popovic, Georg Rauter, Thomas Schauer, Diana Sigrist-Nix, Johann Szecsi, Conor Walsh

  • Actual prosthetic arm engineers that reportedly or knowingly built a working arm in their life time: 0/38
  • Amputees with a strong profile in prosthetic testing: 0/38

So, a few people are missing here. Some others we wonder about. Not really sure what Professor Ernst is doing there, and since when Prof. Gutzwiller or Thomas Heiniger really know their way around prosthetic arms. Keep banging the rocks together, there might be a spark.

Insurance and warranty of prosthetic arms?

No one knows how a prosthetic hand might be insured - after all, insurance and warranty contracts typically exclude any extreme usage and most certainly sports.

Now, if the creators of Cybathlon agree to my interpretation of this being simply a puppet master conference of sorts that lacks each and every aspect of a real sports competition as I have tried to explain on more detail [link], then we could conclude that this type of alternative office type activity is well insured. However, then it would to totally wise to exclude the words Cybathlon, race, sports, olympia or any other wording in conjunction with amateur sports leave alone professional sports.

Because of the iLimb, Michelangelo or Bebionic takes any damage whatsoever, you as pilot will have to pay for any damages yourself.

Prosthetic arms

Now, always relevant to consider one thing about prosthetic arms: where do they come from, what do they do here, where do they go? What type of animal is a prosthetic arm really? Because, not knowing and not understanding that could mean you'd get it all wrong.

So: here, in fact, Swiss Disability Insurance (IV) pays for Swiss people's prosthetic arms. That has far more relevant implications that one might think at first. You just have to keep reading.

What type of arms are getting paid? The ones that specifically help with specific job related activities of the specific individual. Those (and only those) are the ones we are getting our prostheses for. Not necessarily to pour jugs, or to close zippers with, but, to actually work. That, dear friends, can be just such a difference. And how and why might that be. What a classroom question now, isn't it. Interestingly, those job related activities are the ones explicitly not contained in the test listed here, in the Southampton Assessment Procedure. Besides, the SHAP test is meant to be interpreted for slow and clean grip quality - not as a timed race, which is non sensical, technically speaking [link]. So, why is that. To reiterate: every arm amputee under Swiss Disability Insurance has the chance to apply for job-related support. With prostheses being the way they are, in any optimal case, that is what these prosthetic arms will be able to do. Not less, but certainly not really more. Why is that!

Do we have a Social Law that describes the type of support paid for? Can you cite it? If you do research in prosthetic arms, why would you take pride in not knowing these facts? What then is wrong with you? Look, we just care. And we want to know whether you care, too.  To now test all for the fastest tripod grip - such as contained in the SHAP - is surprisingly off the mark. Real prosthetic arms, mostly, never were built for it.

And why would they!

Cybathlon impact

Of course it is cool to see how many pineapples one can shove into a toaster but this race is not designed to be even a minute bit more intelligent. Possibly it might be fun, depending on who ends up showing up. But intelligent? You gotta get up a hell of a lot earlier for that.


The Cybathlon however currently is wrong on a number of levels:

  • The Cybathlon ideators seem to have no idea who they want to test in terms of arm amputees. On one website they write they want to test only above elbow arm amputees [link] (content:"Geschicklichkeitsparcours mit Armprothesen: Athleten mit einer Oberarmamputation verwenden eine aktuierte Armprothese, um damit alltagsrelevante ein- und zweihändige Bewegungsaufgaben schnellstmöglich zu absolvieren."). On their own site, below and above elbow amputees both are invited [link] (content: "Pilots with forearm or upper arm amputations will be equipped with actuated exoprosthetic devices and will have to successfully complete two hand-arm task courses as quickly as possible. A close-up camera view will be used to life-display the shoot on the stadium screens."). True. It is confusing how many different amputations and handicaps there are. Easily does one confuse wheelchair, glasses, prosthesis and prototype as words. That sort of thing happens all the time. However it would probably be helpful if the authors of the Cybathlon could make their mind up which of these words they really wanted to use. Because they mean something specific.
  • While they do seem not have a happy neglect about the type of arm amputees they want (or not want) to see at their "competition", they were adamant about including only "powered" prosthetic hands at first. After much convincing body powered arms are now allowed. Still, I cannot manually rotate my wrist for the wire loop test - and really, there are no wrist units at my amputation level that does what these guys want it to do. With that, they obviously cannot fulfill their goal of making this an "international competition for people with disabilities". They are making this an "international competition for a few people with disabilities that have the luxury of wearing prosthetic arms practically no insurance on this planet pays, and that cost as much as 4-7 small new cars". Their test - and we will get to that very shortly here - is specifically catered to "bionic" arms and, worse, it does not even do that right, respect issues that are grave enough aside. That is what they are really doing. We all get our definitions wrong all the time, don't we. So best to practice on that one as well. Maybe one day we will know what the Cybathlon really was about.
  • The Cybathlon tests are also biased towards electronic and "bionic" prostheses. The creators have no interest to address job specific or actual everyday problems concerning arm amputation or prostheses. Were it like that, we would be looking at tricks and techniques on how to do vacuum cleaning, how to scrub toilets [link], how to boil spaghetti [link], how to ride a bike [link], folding a shirt [link], handling grocery baskets and carry furniture [link], how to really go about shoe laces the grown up way [link], or bake a cake [link]. Otherwise, insurance will have to pay hundreds of thousands of bucks for puppetry gadget arms, and still more for cleaning and maintenance services.
  • The Cybathlon is massively biased towards fidgeting and (within a day or a week of a normal person or so) widely useless manipulations (illustrative videos and details, see below). Were it any different, testing human-like appearance would be at the center of the Cybathlon. I defined such a test recently [link]. My test for human appearance is the single hardest most uncompromising test, but my test absolutely rocks. Because then we'd throw out all the prosthetic devices that let others see that some of us wear a prosthetic limb. Only prostheses that successfully create the appearance of a human hand will pass such a test.
  • As Cybathlon creators are also pilots and stake holders [see board and advisors], the test outcome is biased towards these that create tests first and participate afterwards. This very simply formally excludes sports and fairness. To have industry or biased academia do their thing is not a problem. But: the Cybathlon hopefuls phantasize about "olympic" ideals which makes this totally weird.
  • If the Cybathlon wants to promote useless Dead Horses such as myoelectric "bionic" arms that are well known for their short comings and where speed deficiencies are well established [link] [link] ---... why do they still want to rate pilots for "speed"? That is non sensical even within the mental framework of non-sensicality as such!
  • While spending 80'000 CHF on an electronic gadget hand as the Cybathlon creators appear to envisage our future, some simple facts seem to have slipped their attention. After all, they do not seem to really want disabled people to shine and to rise. They want their overpriced "bionic" gadgets to "shine". However, for an extremely small fraction of what these iLimbs and BeLimbs all cost, there are simple and effective solutions for ADL (activity of daily living) problems [link]. If you really care about one handed world stuff, don't get lost at the Cybathlon.
  • The Cybathlon bases on the premise that handicapped people cannot participate in international sports  [link] "Der Cybathlon eröffnet Menschen mit Behinderung die Möglichkeit, an einem internationalen Wettkampf teilzunehmen, was bisher aufgrund der restriktiven Regeln gegenüber dem Einsatz von Technik im internationalen Sport ausgeschlossen war. ". Participation in international competitions, not possible for people with a handicap? That is nonsense, in fact, it is so totally arrogant it demands and begs for a rebuttal [link].
  • Both in terms of speed and qualitatively, body powered arms dominate the field - that is very well established [link]. A time or speed fetish dominates over qualitative aspects in this Cybathlon nonsense coming up: "The goal of this course is to solve the subtasks subsequently and as fast as possible. When the task is not performed correctly, a simple, but time consuming penalty task will have to be performed. In contrast to the SHAP test, where the time is stopped after each single object, here the time will be stopped after solving all the subtasks." [link]. I would not be concerned about speed. Buttoning up my jacket as amputee never is a problem that exists anywhere. Besides I am just as fast no matter what (see videos below). That does not prove a thing. Go about the whole thing differently, please.


Cite this article:
Wolf Schweitzer: Technical Below Elbow Amputee Issues - Should we take interest in the Cybathlon 2016? [website check]; published 30/05/2014, 20:45; URL:

BibTeX: @MISC{schweitzer_wolf_1618626128, author = {Wolf Schweitzer}, title = {{Technical Below Elbow Amputee Issues - Should we take interest in the Cybathlon 2016? [website check]}}, month = {May},year = {2014}, url = {}}