Robot man reaches for gold in ‘Bionic Olympics’

Bionic man Kevin Evison with Dr Aldo Faisal, of Imperial College London
Bionic man Kevin Evison with Dr Aldo Faisal, of Imperial College London
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A Sheffield man with a robotic arm is to reach for gold in a ground-breaking event dubbed the ‘Bionic Olympics’.

Man-machine Kevin Evison, aged 56, is competing in The Cybathlon competition in Zurich, Switzerland, tomorrow.

The competition, pitched as the ‘bionic Olympics, enables people with severe disabilities to compete in an array of events with the help of assistive technologies.

Kevin said: “Disability sport is very much in the public eye thanks to the success of the London Paralympics, but people don’t see the struggles people with disabilities or physical weakness face every day.”

When Kevin was a junior factory worker in 1982, aged 22, part of a steel forging press unexpectedly twisted and split – ending life as he knew it.

He said: “A brass slope that wasn’t screwed in properly shot out with a thousand-ton force behind it as I was walking towards it.

“Never saw it, never heard a thing. The brass took the hand off and the hydraulic coil blew away the flesh.”

Now Kevin has a high-tech replacement for his severed arm: a prosthetic limb made by the British manufacturer Steeper, with five motors to give him dexterity.

He said: “I can still do things I did before the accident, but everything is just slower.”

Kevin, now an IT professional, has spent the past year training with his prosthetic arm at Imperial College London and will take part in the school’s team.

The Cybathlon is the world’s first bionic Olympics; a contest where disabled patients compete using robotics.

Unlike the Paralympics, severely handicapped athletes and tools compete as a cyborg team; prosthetic arms, electric wheelchairs, robot exoskeletons and brainwave-readers will be put to the test by ‘pilots’ competing for gold.

Of the 65 global teams participating, Team Imperial – Kevin’s team – is the largest.

Dr Aldo Faisal, of Imperial College London, said: “We still have a long way to go to make assistive technologies easy and natural to use. The challenges reflect the trials that people living with severe disabilities face, from slicing bread to manoeuvring a powered wheelchair in the urban jungle. It is brilliant that the Cybathlon will widen sporting participation for our pilots who will be putting assistive technologies through their paces, which we hope will lead to advances in the field.”