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Essex team hope to storm to success in world's first ever 'Cybathlon' competition

Video report by ITV News Anglia's Chloe Keedy

This autumn will see the first ever 'Cybathlon' competition in Zurich, where people with physical disabilities will compete using robotic technologies developed by their team mates.

One of the teams that will be competing is 'The Brainstormers' - a team of researchers from the University of Essex.

Brainstormers preparing to compete in the 'Brain Computer Interface Race'. Credit: ITV News Anglia

The Brainstormers are preparing to compete in the 'Brain Computer Interface Race'. Their pilot must battle it out against other teams to control an avatar in a computer game using thought commands.

The pilot wears a special cap which is covered in electrodes. The electrodes record the signals from the brain and send them to the computer, where they are interpreted as commands.

A special cap is worn by David Rose, who has no movement below his shoulders. Credit: ITV News Anglia

David Rose is The Brainstormers' pilot for the games.

David was injured in a diving accident 28 years ago, and has no movement below his shoulders.

If brain computer interface technology were to become more widely available in the future, it could completely change his life.

He visits the university regularly to practice for hours at a time. Controlling the avatar takes a lot of concentration and if he can't focus properly, the game won't work.

The technology is unbelievable. Seeing how my brain waves my thoughts can make the avatar jump and move is mind blowing.

To be able to be in your house and think 'open front door' or 'move wheelchair' - it would give people lots more independence and the ability to do things for yourself without constantly asking for help.

– David Rose, Pilot
The pilot controls the game through the cap. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Teams from all over the world will compete in six different disciplines at the Cybathlon.

There are races for athletes with powered arm and leg protheses; for athletes wearing powered robotic exoskeleton suits; for those in powered wheelchairs; for cyclists using Electrical Muscle Simulation as well as the Brain Computer Interface Race.

Teams will compete on courses designed to test how well suited a given technology is to helping its user with everyday tasks, for example climbing stairs or opening doors.

Organisers hope the Cybathlon will help to promote the use of robotic assistive aids to the public and encourage collaboration between technology developers and people with disabilities.

For the developers, it's a rare opportunity for them to apply their research in the real world.

It gives you the chance of making a difference in people's lives ... Cybathlon is pushing us to bring these things out of the lab, rather than hiding behind these walls and working by yourself.

– Ana Matr├ín-Fern├índez, Team Leader