Gaming technologies hold medical promise
Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2012 07:09
With the advent of the Nintendo Wii back in 2006, motion-capturing capabilities opened up an entirely new realm for gamers. The ability to capture limited movements and use the Wii remote allowed users to be more active and involved. Back when Nintendo 64 and the original Playstation were the systems of choice, video game skeptics would often criticize the world of gaming as a dead end or a waste of time. That all has changed. With motion-sensing software, not only can you become more immersed in a game, but you can also modify the devices for greater benefits.
Just a little less than two years ago, Microsoft released the Kinect. The Kinect is an Xbox 360 accessory that goes above and beyond the capabilities of the Wii. The Kinect is a small rectangular device that has two cameras — one is an infrared camera and the other bounces out an invisible laser that basically maps the playing field. The data is then collected, stored and read. As a result, the Kinect has a wide range of features: full body-motion capture, voice commands, and facial and voice recognition.
Some users saw the Kinect as a golden opportunity. Sure it’s fun being able to yell “fus-ro-dah” into the Kinect and seeing your character shout an enemy off a cliff in Skyrim, but the Kinect is more than just a stat boost of plus-five to your gaming enjoyment. Seasoned users have been able to modify or hack their Kinects to perform tasks or assist in the accessibility of other technologies.
Chad Ruble managed to convert his Kinect into a device that assists his mother with communicating on her computer. Ruble’s mother suffered a stroke some years ago, and now it is difficult for her to read and write, so the conventional method of reading and using a keyboard was almost out of the question. The mod allows Ruble’s mother to use the Kinect and gesture to an emoticon, which will translate into text in an email or another program.
Microsoft recognizes the potential of its product. A PC version of the Kinect was released in February, along with software that makes modding much easier. A companion software development kit is offered for free on Microsoft’s website.
According to Microsoft’s research site, some hospitals are pioneering a touch-free program, which can allow doctors and hospital employees to view 3-D renderings of the patient. Not only does the touch-free interface make the job slightly easier, it also lowers the chance of contamination. More specifically, if a surgeon was touching buttons or files, the surgeon’s hands may get dirty. The Kinect can very well eliminate the risk of contamination.
There are even programs in the development that can enable therapists to remotely track patients’ hand and finger movements while guiding them through exercises. “It widens our opportunities to make rehabilitation more accessible to people in their homes,” Cheryl Metcalf, lecturer in biomechanics at the University of Southampton, said. Metcalf predicts that a commercially viable tool for stroke patients will be fully realized in about five years and that this stage of experimentation is only the beginning.