Category: TRS prehensor

The Cybathlon as iconic Trash Culture modern day Circus show: arm amputees, arms race and technical considerations regarding specific applicants [proper research domain assignment, pre-race evaluation of critical check points, detailed in-race grip analysis, cultural domain considerations, gonzo race report]

Cite this article:
Wolf Schweitzer: Technical Below Elbow Amputee Issues - The Cybathlon as iconic Trash Culture modern day Circus show: arm amputees, arms race and technical considerations regarding specific applicants [proper research domain assignment, pre-race evaluation of critical check points, detailed in-race grip analysis, cultural domain considerations, gonzo race report]; published October 7, 2016, 17:28; URL: https://www.swisswuff.ch/tech/?p=6378.

BibTeX: @MISC{schweitzer_wolf_1574274405, author = {Wolf Schweitzer}, title = {{Technical Below Elbow Amputee Issues - The Cybathlon as iconic Trash Culture modern day Circus show: arm amputees, arms race and technical considerations regarding specific applicants [proper research domain assignment, pre-race evaluation of critical check points, detailed in-race grip analysis, cultural domain considerations, gonzo race report]}}, month = {October},year = {2016}, url = {https://www.swisswuff.ch/tech/?p=6378}}

Executive summary

  • Arm amputation is more a social (and complex) than just a manual handicap in many daily situations. Therefore many approaches to dealing with it are social and socially motivated, including hand color. You did land on a right below elbow amputation website, like, apparently, so that is the angle from which this comes. Also we made sure this is the title of this website. Different aspects may apply to higher level and bilateral arm amputation, but that is not the target of this website.
  • Conversely, most actually manual problems are not major. What heavily impacts many unilateral arm amputees after 5-8 years or maybe after 10 -20 years, is the impact of overuse of the intact arm and asymmetry related problems. A rational approach to prevent that is to use prosthetic arms that excel particularly at the heavy to extreme range of physical exposure. Those are typically modern body powered arms. These use well established control principles, but can be made from very modern materials. They suffer from medial representations that are largely negative ("Captain Hook"). Myoelectric arms are termed "high tech" simply because they may contain a battery and motors, but they suffer from a battery of intractable or constrained problem combinations.
  • For that, the ETH has so far not been necessary to add to the field of prosthetic arms, but trash culture approaches have a lot going for them regardless of that. My own practical and pragmatic research (see also below) contains such elements and now, the ETH also is proud organizer of a Circus freak show (which in essence is an event that lacks academic approaches and reduces intellectual participation to staring).
  • Neither the ETH nor the NCCR Robotics ever managed to acknowledge that or develop even the tiniest solution to solve just about anything in that matter (remember the title of this page?). That is perfectly OK as quite possibly, myoelectric arms are uninteresting from an actual researcher point of view once one understands the full scope of problems, and body powered arms are uninteresting because their problems are a combination of mechanics, material science, and context dependent issues that usually require deep insights which is currently performed by a small relatively close knit international community of amputees, developers and researchers.
  • Given their academic background claims, ETH or NCCR based approaches could and should have focused on studying intricate differences and aspects of prosthetic arm success and failure during the Cybathlon competition in all situations, pre-race and in-race. I mean: if you claim you want to do, or push, research, better sit down and work on a really detailed introductory explanation to show that we all see how much you understand what detailed features we are all looking for. I am most definitely all for that, but I do not shy away from weird staring contest evaluations either. These define an amputee's daily reality more than you might like.
  • But to no surprise, the technical research representatives neither prepared, nor carried out, such, so any technical analysis of the race that then was presented to the public to actually increase some real understanding for the effectively present research problems and real world issues so it will never be possible in sufficient detail or write any great scientific paper about it. Or, not from how it looks now.
  • Thus, academically (not industrially, not as bystander, person that loves to stare at arm amputees or spectator), the event of the Cybathlon prosthetic arm race was a thoroughly missed opportunity if not a failure.
  • This does not mean that the Cybathlon as such was meaningless; it just showed that body powered technology (TRS, TRS prehensor) as very calmly and perfectly performed and carried out by a 67 year old man (Bob Radocy) that did not visibly hurry but chewed gum for the whole event left all "robotic" competition behind - while I had warned the organizers from a one-dimensional overly simplistic evaluation two years ago. I had always told them exactly what Claudia Breidbach said in her statement after the finals race: you cannot compare, across various different arm amputation with adapted different devices, what a good performance is. They knew as they had been extensively informed beforehand. The search for what prosthetic arms should be able to actually do well remains ongoing though, the odyssey apparently continues with a Cybathlon 2020.
  • And while any evidence based rational mind would now more than ever (a) want a body powered prosthesis and (b) further research on that type of prosthesis, it was the very clear aim by the organizers to not include these arms in the race at all, until I had imposed myself onto the organizers, had a very serious word with them and convinced them to admit also body powered arms which they did.
  • The Swiss National Foundation (SNF) is strongly advised to look into the intricate aspects of all failures of (a) research opportunities missed and (b) strategic solutions actually needed in prosthetic arm and hand field, (c) appoint very competent coordinators and advisors there and (d) not finance silly "competitions" such as this that do not further science at all or (e) finance more myoelectric nonsense.
  • All the same, the Cybathlon was a great experience in how ETH hype, tech media hype and gadget hand industry hype take a royal tanking against real life based real men, and, if you need a short but intensive read on the reasons why the myoelectric arms missed out today, check my Cybathlon Symposium scientific contribution, you will find there more relevant text than in many other places.
  • I do not hate myoelectric arms. Personally I must have invested more finances into my own myoelectric gadgets than into my body powered components. However, that does not make me blind, dumb or gadget happy. I still test, look, think and analyze. I still work on finding better ways, solutions, parts or usage tricks for both systems. But then, coming from an engineering perspective (funny you come here to read that) - finding the exact problem, identifying the exact issue, has been placed before being ablt to solving it. And the simple beauty of engineering is, that whatever your attempt at covering up your tricks, at the end of the day, the contraption either works, or it does not.
  • While Professor Riener verbally once (1) at the Cybathlon race itself mentioned the fact that cable powered technology won (we were there, see Gonzo report below), they made sure none of that leaked to the Swiss television, or BBC, or newspapers, or IEEE, or other press. They simply buried the fact that they were left eating dust by some very athletic older gentleman wearing a body powered prosthetic arm. Because that is like having someone in sandals and swim trunks run up on Mount Everest. They do not report that as it is seen as putting the other efforts to shame rather than being seen as someone, something, a situation to finally learn from. And that puts massive question marks to the news writers, tech representatives and researchers: is what you do something we have to believe, because quite clearly, facts are not consistent with it? Do you represent a type of religion or belief system?
  • Not all are like that. The Scientific American, a journal that I am a subscriber and reader of since many, many years, reports extremely well, and explains the actual technical aspects of the winning device.
  • The Cybathlon was announced as competition that allows visitors to "understand the issues surrounding disability in a practical way". When not even the organizers understand these issues, and not even in a theoretical way, how on earth can they assume an ability to instruct visitors so they understand disability issues?

Trash Culture, the Cybathlon prosthetic arms race show Circus, and other prosthetic limb Trash Culture approaches

"Mommy, do I have to repeat every mistake others made before me myself?" - "Yes, one can learn so much from mistakes".

Don't get me wrong here.

Trash Culture is a great contemporary experience. If anything, this is what gets people talking. But it is not research or academic. This is not at all a critique, but an attempt to better localize this strange event in context of prosthetic arms, amputation and society.

It is just a Circus.

To unmake it a Circus and Make It a Technical Contest, a bit more attention to detail would have be needed. A lot more attention to detail would have made it a great event. That all was missed.

Now, I will supplement you with the required extra details below to make it a research observation despite the organizers successful attempts to keep it simple, hip, sexy and trashy .... but let that not spoil the fun for you.


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