ETH Zurich / CYBATHLON Inclusive Design at Milano Design Week 2023
The ETH/CYBATHLON booth was one of the most visited, interactive, and personalised booths. Inspired by this year’s theme of Inclusive Design, it focused on inclusive and user-centric designs in assistive technologies for people with disabilities. We succeeded in creating an immersive experience for visitors, displaying the everyday challenges and obstacles of people with disabilities. This made the work of CYBATHLON accessible and visible to a broad international audience as well as to the media.
What do we know about the challenges that people with disabilities go through on a daily basis? How can technology and its design contribute to a self-determined and autonomous life and enhance inclusion in all spheres of life? In April 2023, I was part of the ETH Zurich and CYBATHLON exhibition at the Milano Design Week. As a first-time contributor to such a unique exhibition, I was impressed with the massive interest in our work. Within the week, we might have explained the Brian-Computer Interface (BCI) game about 700 times, instructing visitors how they could control and navigate a virtual car merely with their thoughts, i.e., by relaxing their brains or concentrating. We helped visitors with trying out demo prosthetics just as many times. “This is one of the best exhibitions I have seen this year” is what we heard often from the many visitors at the Milano Design Week 2023.
ETH Zurich has been organising exhibitions at Milano Design Week every year, collaborating with different departments or projects depending on each year’s theme. The 2023 Milano Design Week took place in April and ETH Zurich with CYBATHLON was present with its exhibition at the House of Switzerland, displaying inclusive and user-centric design in assistive technologies that are used by people with disabilities.
Inspired by the theme of Inclusive Design, the exhibition’s specific focus was on assistive technologies for people with disabilities. Our booth was conceptualised and organised by CYBATHLON and ETH Zurich, with curation and design by Simone Bucher van Ligten, who works in Curation and Communication Projects at ETH Zurich. It was one of the most interactive and personalised exhibitions, with the idea of storytelling in mind. A welcoming video in sign language immediately primed visitors for the overarching theme of inclusive design and gave a quick overview of what awaited them as they would proceed further.
The booth was divided into different parts based on some of the CYBATHLON disciplines: Arm Prosthesis, Leg Prosthesis, Brain-Computer Interface (BCI), Exoskeleton, Wheelchair and Assistance Robot Races. The different parts then displayed information about assistive technologies available, with basic information and facts, portraits of people with disabilities who use these technologies on a daily basis and who have been pilots, with research and development teams, in the CYBATHLON competitions, as well as some inspiring personal stories about these pilots.
How do you open a jar or cut a loaf of bread using a knife with your prosthetic hand at the breakfast table? How helpless do you feel when you cannot pick up a credit card or a coin or a key that has fallen on the floor with your prosthetic hand? How do you control and navigate a virtual vehicle on the monitor with just your thoughts? Or how do you go about navigating the streets with road construction and other obstacles when your eyes are blindfolded? To convey the challenges and obstacles that people with disabilities go through every day, we organised hands-on demos on Arm Prostheses, Brain-Computer Interfaces and Vision Assistance technologies. Maria Rosanna Fossati, one of the CYBATHLON Arm Prosthesis Race pilots from team SoftHand Pro, was present at the Hands-on Demo stations. It was inspiring to see how passionately Maria took the time to interact with each and every visitor and demonstrated how one could use a prosthetic hand.
Our exhibition incorporated Circleg, a project founded in 2018, that partners with research centres like ETH Zurich to create affordable, sustainable, and high-quality leg prostheses. Circleg participated as one of the teams in the CYBATHLON 2020 Global Edition Leg Prosthesis Race, capturing the gold with their winning formula. In Milano, they demonstrated how a holistic approach to prosthetics drives inclusive design. Fabian Engel, one of the founders of the project, introduced and explained to our visitors a lower limb prosthetic that they have developed with recycled materials to specifically fit the needs of amputees in low and middle-income countries starting with East Africa. These low-cost and high-quality prosthetics increased the quality of life of amputees and their communities, allowing them access to new opportunities, from education, to work and social life.
The exhibition was visited by a diverse group of people from students, researchers and ETH Alumni to industry and government officials. We also welcomed media representatives, and as a highlight, the Swiss Ambassador to Italy. I am convinced we succeeded in creating an impressive experience for many people and in making Design and Inclusion, the everyday situation of people with disabilities and the work of CYBATHLON, accessible and visible to a broad international audience as well as to the media.