World’s first robot-assisted competition
In October 2016 teams from across the world arrived in Zurich for Cybathlon, the world’s first robot-assisted competition for people with disabilities. The competition included six events, one of which is the Functional Electrical Stimulation bike race, and representing the UK team for the cycling event is Paul Moore, UK Paralympian and BerkelBike representative, and Johnny Beer Timms, who became the UK’s highest placed Cybathlon competitor having won silver. To learn more about how the BerkelBbike works and the race itself, IoTUK spoke to Rik Berkelmans, Director of BerkelBike bv.
For the Functional Electrical Stimulation bike race, the Cybathlon course included two indoor tracks, two ramps and two competitors for each race. Cyclists were expected to pedal for 750 metres and, for some, the competition focused on how far the athlete can cycle with their legs while for others it was about how fast they could reach the finishing line.
How BerkelBike got involved with Cybathlon
I have made the only commercially viable FES bike for the outdoors, which is why Cybathlon reached out to me to participate in this event. Following that call, we partnered with Imperial College London, who at first, wanted to make an assistive bike themselves, but they soon understood that due to the difficulty of developing one that it would help disabled people much more to further develop our existing BerkelBike.
The BerkelBike is a trike with a sensor that gives the position of the pedals to the stimulator and the simulator does calculations to know which muscle has to be stimulated and pulses the electrical current to the electrodes.
For most spinal injuries the nerves below the injury are still there waiting for instructions from the brain. We give the instructions to the nervous system and stimulate the motor nerves so the muscles can contract.
The normal BerkelBike has a combined arm and leg part so the arms can help move the legs. This kind of stimulation is still relatively low in power output, so using the arms to cycle can help, which is a big breakthrough for outdoor cycling.
When I was studying at university, you learn how important it is for the body to exercise but then if you have a spinal injury you are forced into a sedentary lifestyle and you can’t do anything about it. The upper leg has two and a half times more muscle than the upper arm so the physiological effect of doing exercise with your legs is much bigger.
The lack of exercise for those wheelchair bound is a big problem and even now the life expectancy of people with spinal injuries is much lower. American studies show that over the last 30 years the gap between life expectancy of those with or without a spinal injury remains the same.
The future of BerkelBike
If someone is cycling two or three times a week for a couple of years that’s a lot of potential data to gather and analyse about people with spinal injuries. By making every training a kind of optimisation experiment so for the customer itself it’s just training, but in the background there’s all kinds of measurement done, we could gain a much deeper insight and that’s something I would really like that to explore in the future.