People with quadriplegia use brain-computer interfaces to compete in a cyborg olympics

Cybathlon 2020 was a recent cyborg Olympics in which people with physical disabilities compete while using exoskeletons, bionic limbs, and other technology. For example, in one race, competitors with quadriplegia donned scalp sensors that detected their brain waves to steer vehicles on the screen. From IEEE Spectrum:

Pilots controlled the avatars by thinking about—but not actually making—physical movements. For example, the avatar would turn left if the pilot imagined moving his left arm, and right if the pilot imagined moving his right arm. Thinking about a movement such as lifting both feet could turn on the headlights. 

Some of the hardest parts of the track were the straightaways, says Nicole Wenderoth, professor of neural control of movement at ETH Zurich, whose team entered its BCI system in the event. For those sections, pilots had to concentrate on thinking about nothing. 

"You can try to think 'left' harder. But when you're supposed to do nothing, and the algorithm isn't getting it, you have to try to do nothing harder," she says. That's extremely difficult to do, particularly in a competition setting where emotions are involved. And it's the opposite of just about any other competition, where one typically tries hard to do something. 

The winner of the event, an Italian team piloted by Paralympic swimmer Francesco Bettella, finished in 2 minutes 52 seconds. "The secret is to stay calm and focused and not be surprised by the agitation happening around you," because it can translate into false commands to the avatar, Bettella said in a recorded interview during the webcast

"Quadriplegic Pilots Race for Gold in Cybathlon Brain Race" by Emily Waltz (IEEE Spectrum)