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Sep 09, 2016 11:08 AM


Brasília assisted cycling project will represent Brazil in the Bionic Olympics

Tricycle allows paraplegic athletes to ride using their own leg power without the use of a motor

Rio de Janeiro, 8 September 2016 - While giving an interview at Rio Media Center this Thursday (8 September), Estevão Carvalho rode a tricycle with his own legs, without requiring motors of any type. An important detail: Carvalho is a paraplegic. And he didn't just move the tricycle - the athlete was riding fast and hard. In October, Estevão will be the only Latin American representative to compete in the Cybathlon, or the "Bionic Olympics" as it is known, in Switzerland. The feat is an achievement of the EMA Project - short for Empowering Mobility and Autonomy - run by the Electrical Engineering and Physical Therapy Departments at the University of Brasilia (UnB).

The EMA, whose main focus is the use of functional electrical stimulation (FES), is developed under the Assistive Technologies, Accessibility and Innovation Centre (NTAAI) of the UnB, which receives federal government funding through the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq). Some of the programme members also receive graduate program scholarships from CAPES (the Higher Education Personnel Improvement Coordination). "The best part of this project is knowing that the technology we have developed will not be limited to high-performance athletes, but can be experienced by other users as well. There is also the psychological factor: It is an electrical stimulus, but it is me making the moves. That is sensational," said Estevão.

The work began with development of a technology that uses electrical stimulation to contract the muscles of people with spinal cord injuries. In partnership with a manufacturer in Rio de Janeiro, a common tricycle has been adapted to use the technology, which eventually led to the production of the EMA Trike. The device works by applying low-energy electrical pulses to nerve endings using surface electrodes. These impulses allow for movements to be coordinated by the legs, allowing paraplegic cyclists to ride the equipment.

The project's coordinator, Professor Antonio Padilha, explained at the press conference that one of the EMA's goals is to expand the application of assistive technologies to other sports, such as rowing. Another future target of the project is to assist in specific movements of everyday life for people with paraplegia, such as transferring from a chair.

The project has partnered with the Adapted Physical Education Training Centre Association (CETEFE), which is where Carvalho was selected to compete at the Cybathlon. Other athletes with paraplegia from the Centre were also selected to participate in a longer exercise protocol, this one aimed at gathering scientific evidence on the benefits of exercise with electrical stimulation.


The Cybathlon is a competition with six categories in which participants must race against time to perform everyday tasks aided by different technological aids. The idea is to showcase the state-of-the-art in assistive technologies. After a rigorous process to prove the maturity of the technology, the EMA Project was the only one from Latin America selected to compete.

The EMA Trike will participate in the "Functional Electrical Stimulation Cycling" category of the Cybathlon. The project is now seeking to obtain funding through the Catarse crowdsourcing platform to help fund its participation in the Cybathlon - check out
for more info.