Kilian Baur: Building CYBATHLON’s Complex Infrastructure

13th June 2024
CYBATHLON Competition Infrastructure | © CYBATHLON

CYBATHLON Competition Infrastructure


CYBATHLON is a competition like no other, and that brings its own set of unique challenges and rewards. Building the various infrastructures needed to organise, produce, and livestream a global competition is a Herculean task. That responsibility lies with Kilian Baur, CYBATHLON’s Head of Technology.

Hi Kilian! Please can you give us a brief introduction about yourself, your professional background, and your current role at CYBATHLON?

Of course, my name is Kilian Baur and I live with my wife and two kids near Zurich.  In terms of my professional background, I’m a mechanical engineer with a PhD in rehabilitation robotics.

During my PhD, I was lucky enough to become the discipline lead for the ARM prosthesis race in 2015-2016. It was in 2018 that I started working for CYBATHLON as Head of Technology, which involves a few different areas.

I build the competition infrastructure which means that I design the obstacles we use in the tasks. I’m also responsible for the system which tracks the results of each race. It’s very challenging to synchronise all the different systems used simultaneously all around the world.

And then I’m also responsible for coordinating with different agencies on all the different tools we use to produce and broadcast the events live!

What initially inspired you to get involved with CYBATHLON?

For me, it was (and still is) very inspiring to bring technology and people together. I enjoy building a fair competition and making it accessible for teams and audiences all over the world.

Can you tell us about the changes and growth you've seen in the competition since you started?

Well, we certainly have more disciplines and more tasks than when we started! We’ve also worked to make the competition infrastructure more discipline-specific than in the first two editions in 2016 and 2020, and we try to challenge each discipline right at the edge of its technology.

This growth of detail for building the different tasks has helped to facilitate the global competitions we started in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We couldn’t hold the 2020 CYBATHLON in person, so teams created local hubs around the world where they could join in online.

Can you walk us through the process of designing the tasks and how you make sure they are challenging enough?

From the very beginning, we wanted to make sure we were developing the tasks in close collaboration with disabled CYBATHLON ambassadors and developer teams to ensure the tasks represent real needs of people with disabilities.

When discussing and testing with the teams, we try to level out the difficulty of the task. Every task should force the teams to overcome a technology gap until the next CYBATHLON edition. If most of the teams succeed in passing the task, we modify the task to increase the difficulty again.

Take the Wheelchair Race. We started with a 3-step staircase in 2016, increased that to 6 steps in 2020, and this year we’re challenging the teams with a spiral staircase!

What has been your favourite task so far?

One of my favourite tasks is the Sidewalk task in the Vision Assistance Race because it’s so relevant to what people with vision impairment face every day. The obstacles randomly placed on a sidewalk are what I see every day. It’s exciting for us as competition developers because we have to know how to randomise the tasks but still keep the competition fair.

I also really like the tasks in the Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) Race. The newest virtual scenario shows how everyday situations can be solved with a BCI, which means that our teams are one big step closer to real-world applications of BCIs. There’s still a long way to go, though.

Developing and managing the results system must come with its own set of challenges. How do you ensure effective collaboration between the global hubs and the main hub in Zurich?

Communication is key! The callers and competition assistants (who remotely coordinate the preparations on competition day with the local hubs around the globe) check every results management tool in detail: Is the internet working properly at the hub? Are the scorers logged in to the scoring app? Is the race screen displaying the results of the right track? In the background of all this, we have all these tools connected with our results database. Our developer team did a great job to create a robust system so that all the results are visible in real time not only at each global hub but also on our webpage or via the live broadcast.

What are the most critical aspects of setting up the main hub in Zurich and the local hubs worldwide, and how do you ensure everything is the same around the world?

Regarding the competition infrastructure it is challenging to design everyday tasks that represent the actual problem, are affordable, randomisable and at the same time ensure a fair competition. We try to come up with solutions that are cost efficient, and provide technical drawings, material lists and assembly manuals to the hubs so that we have equal conditions wherever a team wants to do their races.

Can you tell us about how CYBATHLON works with ETH Zurich and how that collaboration has helped to facilitate the growth of the competition?

Being part of ETH has many advantages for us. There are many service departments that work closely together with us such as carpentry, transportation or IT and event services. They help us in creating the infrastructure required for the competition but also to facilitate the event operation around the competitions.

What role has ETH played in each CYBATHLON competition, and how has it influenced your work and the technological advancements within the competition?

The research institutes give us the opportunity to discuss and test technological aspects of the competition. We need to know what technology can solve today and what the research is currently working on so that we can come up with challenging tasks. There is a great helping attitude within ETH where we can find support for our challenges quickly and easily.

Looking towards the future, what do you see as the next steps or goals of CYBATHLON, and how do you think it will impact the field of assistive technology?

On the road to 2024, we developed tools that we could use to organise, produce and broadcast our competitions effectively. For the future, this will absolutely give us the opportunity to do more races with remote teams around the world. Doing more races gives teams the chance to test their devices more often and regularly showcase their technology on the CYBATHLON stage.

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