Athletic Assistive Technology has advanced by leaps and bounds in the last two decades. This, of course, has been a boon for players with disabilities. However, it has also led to questions about whether the tech is augmenting people to such an extent that they are gaining an added advantage over those who aren’t using it (Yes, it sounds like something out of a sci-fi book or movie, but as Mark Twain once remarked, Reality is far stranger than fiction).
So, just how much can tech enhancements influence performance? And how far can it take all athletes in the future?
Well, though Assistive Tech covers a wide gamut of devices, it alone cannot – and does not – affect performance. Sure, it plays a large role in allowing Athletes with Mobility Conditions (also known as AMCs) to be at the top of their sport and compete on the world stage, but it is only due to support from advances in medicine, training, and of course, the increasing popularity of the Paralympics, which has an added psychological benefit for the player.
As these sports continue gaining in popularity, they will inadvertently attract sponsors and lead to an influx of money, which will aid the development of assistive devices, and we will see athletes pushing the boundaries of the human condition, striving to break their limits and go to the next stage, perhaps even leading to the word ‘disabled’ being redefined in this context. After all, athletes using wheelchairs have broken certain Olympic records, the Paralympic records keep dropping like nine pins, and we even have amputees competing with Olympians!
Of course, these devices have their limitations as well, for example, though wheelchairs are the most popular assistive device, they can be quite confining. They limit the players height, reach and agility. Perhaps with advances in technology, Prostheses could be a better option in the future, melding the boundary between man and machine, much like RoboCop did in pop culture all those years ago.
One complaint we have with Assistive sports devices is that they are yet to take advantage of smart technology. Instead, they choose to rely on mechanical designs and using superior materials, while common, everyday devices have already incorporated powered-tech. Purists argue that doing so would compromise the ethics of the sport, while others state that the dynamic range of motion required by an athlete isn’t easily adaptable to such tech. Thus, Assistive technology has to go a long way before it can claim to augment human abilities with any real degree of truth behind those words. It could be something we see in the future, something to work towards, but for now, that’s what it is: A dream, one where man and machine blend together to mimic biology and not just meet, but surpass human limitations, creating the super-athlete of the future.