Paraplegic athlete Silke Pan brilliantly represented EPFL at the 2020 Cybathlon this weekend. Wearing the TWIICE exoskeleton designed by EPFL scientists, she finished in second place in the finals.
Competing against athletes from five countries (United States, Russia, Korea, India and France) Swiss paraplegic athlete and handbike champion Silke Pan took part in the 2020 edition of Cybathlon, a cybernetic race organised by ETH Zürich. The former acrobat adorned the TWIICE exoskeleton especially designed for her by EPFL scientists. She raced through a 40 meter-long circuit that included seven types of obstacles like stairs, inclined slopes, rough terrain and a slalom around tables.
TWIICE is a lower limb exoskeleton developed by the EPFL research group REHAssist. It consists of actuated segments at the hip and knee joints that are rigidly interfaced with the thighs and the tibiae. A smart controller coordinates these segments to move according to desired gait trajectories that enable a person with spinal cord injury to walk.
Silke Pan took the silver medal in the finals on Saturday afternoon, just behind the Korean Byeong-Uk and his team Angel Robotic 1. "A second place is just wonderful!" she reacted after the results were announced. "I was responsible for bringing to success all the work that had been done before by the TWIICE team. We worked together to perfect every aspect of the race. On D-Day we all gave our best, and we have nothing to regret. We can be proud of what we have achieved, of all the improvements we have made to the exoskeleton since 2016. The Cybathlon is a motivation to go even further and in that sense it has allowed us to progress."
Mohamed Bouri, head of the REHAssist group, was not hiding his satisfaction: "The team has invested itself fully and this result is well deserved. We are particularly happy for Silke, who wanted a victory so badly and was afraid of disappointing us. It couldn't be the case, because it was a team effort. There are no winners or losers, only hope, because the Cybathlon pushes us to make assistive devices more accessible for people with disabilities. Looking ahead, I would be happy to see this development result in a product marketed by a future startup that would have every chance of becoming a technological flagship in the Lake Geneva region. The Cybathlon has allowed us to explore several control strategies and efficient trajectories. To do even better, we need to push back the limits of our knowledge even further, and that is the beauty of science". Mohamed Bouri also thanked the people in the TWIICE team: Tristan Vouga, Romain Baud, Jemina Fasola, Alireza Manzoori and Julien Pache.
Tristan Vouga, EPFL Cybathlon team leader and co-designer of the TWIICE exoskeleton, believes that "the Cybathlon has achieved its goal, because all the teams have made great strides in their technological developments since 2016. Today there are no losers, we are all victorious while facing the limits that a disability can represent. I am very proud to be part of such a close-knit and dynamic team. I would like to thank Silke for this magnificent feat, she has inspired us throughout this great adventure with unfailing determination!"
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