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Stroke Survivors Game Their Way Toward Independence

NSF Award:

Quality of Life Technology Engineering Research Center  (Carnegie-Mellon University)

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A large and growing segment of the population--people with reduced functional capabilities due to aging or disability--could benefit from a motivational therapy gaming system developed by three Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) students. The video game-based interface encourages patients to maintain their therapy regimen with a commercially available robotic arm brace. The system was created in collaboration with the medical device company Myomo Inc.

Studies have indicated that patients were more inclined to perform therapy exercises regularly when the exercises were performed in the context of playing video games. The gaming applications also captured data on therapy performance and reported it back to the patient and his or her therapist, enabling them to make better decisions about the patient's recommended therapy.

Dan Siewiorek of the Quality of Life Technology Center (QoLT) and Sergi Bermudez i Badia of the University of Madeira, Portugal guided students in the research. QoLT is run by CMU jointly with the University of Pittsburgh and is an Engineering Research Center (ERC) funded by NSF.

The project's findings on user engagement and motivation will assist other projects currently underway at the QoLT center such as the development of service robots, smart assistive technologies, and virtual coach systems that help improve therapy compliance and enhance rehabilitation results. Myomo secured additional funding, allowing it to continue collaborating with QoLT to evolve complementary virtual coaching software for tablet computers.

Initially aimed at stroke survivors, the Myomo neuro-robotic arm brace fits over a patient's arm and then provides motorized assistance when it detects even the faintest signal from the brain to move the arm muscles. As a therapeutic device, it helps patients restore mobility in their arms.

In developing the arm-to-game interface, the students monitored arm joint angle over time. After seeing the display, a Myomo clinician working on the project immediately recognized the potential for scaling exercise routines to the ability of the subject. Within the scope of the project, the students also mapped the joint angle to control a classic game joy-stick controller. They then worked with a stroke survivor who volunteered to test the video games.

One game pits a lion tamer against a lion. The patient moves the robotic arm to keep the lion tamer from being eaten. In addition to exercising the affected arm, the game provides practice in synchronizing coordination between both arms.

Images (1 of )

  • user tests a robotic arm system by playing video game
  • screenshots from the hang glider video game
User tests robotic arm system by playing a hang glider video game.
Screenshots from the hang glider video game.

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