Competing at the Cybathlon championship for people with disabilities: Long-term motor imagery brain-computer interface training of a cybathlete who has tetraplegia

Attila Korik, Karl McCreadie, Niall McShane, Naomi Du Bois, Massoud Khodadadzadeh, Jacqueline Stow, Jacinta McElligott, Áine Carroll, Damien Coyle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
51 Downloads (Pure)


BACKGROUND: The brain-computer interface (BCI) race at the Cybathlon championship, for people with disabilities, challenges teams (BCI researchers, developers and pilots with spinal cord injury) to control an avatar on a virtual racetrack without movement. Here we describe the training regime and results of the Ulster University BCI Team pilot who has tetraplegia and was trained to use an electroencephalography (EEG)-based BCI intermittently over 10 years, to compete in three Cybathlon events. METHODS: A multi-class, multiple binary classifier framework was used to decode three kinesthetically imagined movements (motor imagery of left arm, right arm, and feet), and relaxed state. Three game paradigms were used for training i.e., NeuroSensi, Triad, and Cybathlon Race: BrainDriver. An evaluation of the pilot's performance is presented for two Cybathlon competition training periods-spanning 20 sessions over 5 weeks prior to the 2019 competition, and 25 sessions over 5 weeks in the run up to the 2020 competition. RESULTS: Having participated in BCI training in 2009 and competed in Cybathlon 2016, the experienced pilot achieved high two-class accuracy on all class pairs when training began in 2019 (decoding accuracy > 90%, resulting in efficient NeuroSensi and Triad game control). The BrainDriver performance (i.e., Cybathlon race completion time) improved significantly during the training period, leading up to the competition day, ranging from 274-156 s (255 ± 24 s to 191 ± 14 s mean ± std), over 17 days (10 sessions) in 2019, and from 230-168 s (214 ± 14 s to 181 ± 4 s), over 18 days (13 sessions) in 2020. However, on both competition occasions, towards the race date, the performance deteriorated significantly. CONCLUSIONS: The training regime and framework applied were highly effective in achieving competitive race completion times. The BCI framework did not cope with significant deviation in electroencephalography (EEG) observed in the sessions occurring shortly before and during the race day. Changes in cognitive state as a result of stress, arousal level, and fatigue, associated with the competition challenge and performance pressure, were likely contributing factors to the non-stationary effects that resulted in the BCI and pilot achieving suboptimal performance on race day. Trial registration not registered.

Original languageEnglish
Article number95
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation
Issue number1
Early online date6 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished online - 6 Sept 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to acknowledge the effort and commitment of our pilot, Mr. Owen Collumb, and congratulate him on his success in the competition, 6th in 2016, 3rd in 2019 and 6th in 2020. Without his dedication and commitment we would not have had the learning and BCI development experience outlined in this manuscript. We would also like to thank Ulster University for financially supporting the Team.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


  • brain-computer interface (BCI)
  • motor imagery, electroencephalography (EEG)
  • competition
  • tetraplegia
  • long-term training
  • neurofeedback
  • neurogaming
  • alternative and augmentative and assistive communication (AAC) device
  • CYBATHLON 2020
  • motor imagery
  • Electroencephalography (EEG)


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