HERL's MEBot Competes in Cybathlon
HERL Director Dr. Rory Cooper writes:
"The Cybathlon in Zurich, Switzerland has come to an end. The Organizers are to be commended for hosting an excellent event. The Cybathlon literally ran like a Swiss Watch. TV coverage was high in Switzerland and Germany. MEBOT was featured in many media outlets (TV, Radio, Internet). Live streaming went world-wide. Unquestionably, the Cybathlon raised awareness for the potential of high-tech to have a positive impact on people with disabilities. The interaction between the teams from around the globe was great, and HERL received several inquiries for collaboration, graduate and post-doctoral studies.
"TEAM HERL (University Of Pittsburgh, US Department of Veterans Affairs, and Fraunhofer Institut) was a success. MEBOT (Mobility Enhanced Robotic Wheelchair) performed well. The entire team worked well together despite the pressures of the competition and the challenges of the course. We qualified for the finals with the fastest time to the stairs; a good 30 seconds ahead of the next competitors. MEBOT handled the slalom, steep ramps, door, high speed bumps, and cross-slopes with grace and quickly became a crowd and media favorite. MEBOT made it to the first step of the stairs, and I made a pilot error. We were stuck and timed-out.
"However, we qualified for the finals. A few adjustments, a little more practice, and we went to the start line for the medal round. 8 minutes of excitement awaited the teams and the several thousand spectators. MEBOT was seamless through the obstacles arriving at the stairs in 3 minutes and 1 second; again more than 30 seconds ahead of the next team. 5 minutes to ascend and descend the stairs. HEEL worked out some hand signals for the stairs. MEBot started moving step by step through the 28 commands to climb the three steps. Just as MEBOT was to transition to the landing, the seat mount broke and the MEBOT tipped forward instead of backward onto the landing. Stuck again - with small push MEBOT tilted back and we were able to climb the steps, but we had timed out.
"The crowd started cheering encouragement to finish the course. After a little effort with the broken seat, we got turned around and descended the stairs without incident. The crowd roared, and continued to clap and cheer as we left the arena.
"MEBOT was among the crowd favorites. If we had completed the stairs within the 8-minutes, we would have won. Although, we didn't make the podium countless people live, in TV, and on-line clearly appreciated the elegance and cleverness of the design and the potential to improve the lives of people who use powered wheelchairs. MEBOT was clearly the front runner in commercial potential for indoor/outdoor use.
"At the Closing Ceremonies, HERL received several inquiries about PhD study and Post-Doc opportunities. Our PITT and HERL Alum, Dr. Jongbae Kim, was also a pilot for his team from Korea. Several of the volunteers for the Cybathlon from around the world had also studied or worked in HERL at some point. It was great to see multiple generations of HERL at the competition."