Mark Daniel, who was paralyzed in a car accident at 17, ascends a set of stairs as part of his training for Saturday's Cybathlon in Zurich, Switzerland. At the championships, international athletes with disabilities will compete in six different events with the help of today's most advanced assistive devices.
At the Cybathlon, Daniel will compete in the powered exoskeleton race, in which athletes who have lost use of their legs navigate a course that tests their speed, dexterity and concentration. The competitor with the fastest time wins.
Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition engineers Olger Siebinga (left) and Travis Craig review the electronics in the Mina2's backpack. The robotic exoskeleton weighs 75 pounds (34 kilograms) in all. The IHMC doesn't commercialize products but does license its technology.
Because he's paralyzed from the stomach down and lacks sensation, Mark Daniel can't feel if he's about to fall over. To help him learn to balance and position himself in the Mina2 robotic exoskeleton, he plays with a Wii Balance Board at the Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition.
Mark Daniel pilots the Mina2 using an interface operated from a display attached to one of his crutches. He pushes buttons to shift the robotic exoskeleton into modes such as "flat walking," "slope" or "sit down."
Mark Daniel, who lives in Pensacola, Florida, works at the IHMC full-time, helping with the design and testing of the Mina robotic exoskeleton. He stays strong doing isometric exercises, swimming and kayaking and plans to attempt becoming the first paraplegic to try completing the 4,834-mile (7,780-kilometer) American Discovery Trail, which stretches coast-to-coast from Delaware to California.
Mark Daniel takes his first steps in the Mina2 robotic exoskeleton, in August. This Saturday, he'll wear the device while competing in the first ever Cybathlon for augmented humans. More than 70 robot-assisted athletes from 25 countries will compete in six different events using advanced assistive devices.
A harness keeps Cybathlon competitor Mark Daniel safe as he navigates obstacles in the Mina2 during a practice run.
"With my past growing up on motor sports, I tend to look at the exoskeleton the same way I did whenever I was riding dirt bikes," he said. "I have to learn what it can do and can't do and go from there. The stakes are just a lot higher."
The 11-person IHMC team that's helped Mark Daniel (top row, center) train for the Cybathlon will accompany him to the big event in Zurich, Switzerland. They are (top row, from left to right) Jesper Smith, Olger Siebinga, Tyson Cobb, Peter Neuhaus, Travis Craig and Jeremy Gines. Pictured in the bottom row are (from left) Jason Conrad, Robert Griffin, Koen Kramer, Nick van Dijk and Billy Howell.