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Wind Beneath their Wings

The gamified Virtual Habilitation solution is helping children with special needs move independently

 

VHab is combining virtual reality with gesture analysis to help kids receive physiotherapy

With motion sensing technology finding mainstream acceptance through wearables, gamification in the healthcare sector was next logical step in the value chain.  

And one of the fields that could do with this synergy is that of assistive technologies. According to Census 2011, nearly 26.8 million people in India suffer from some form of disability.

A significant percentage of Indian persons with disability (PWDs) suffer from locomotor disabilities, which means that their ability to move independently is severely impacted.

One such condition is cerebral palsy (CP), where muscle development and motion is affected. Autism, a neuro-developmental disorder affecting children's communication, socialization, and cognition, also has a significant impact on the same, with the result that a large percentage of children with these disabilities are excluded from the mainstream. 

To retain a degree of independence and control, children with autism and CP require regular physiotherapy and the use of physical aids. Growth in digital technologies has meant that this field is ripe for disruption.

Using Assistive Technologies for Physiotherapy

At the TCS Innovation Lab in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city of the Indian state of Kerala, researchers combined virtual reality with motion sensors and gesture analysis to create a gamified solution for PWDs called Virtual Habilitation (VHab).

Working with Kochi-based NGO Adarsh Rehabilitation Centre, the Lab has created personalized simulated environments on-screen that children with autism or CP can explore through motion sensors as they carry out their physiotherapy regimen.

With exercise no longer boring or a chore, the kids are motivated to complete their physiotherapy regimens every day. This is critical for their future, since early intervention is the best way to preserve muscle control.  

Gamification has been key in making this solution work, since watching their ‘avatars’ explore detailed environments on-screen motivates children to complete their individual exercise routines.

As the children progress through different difficulty levels of physical therapy, their avatars keep racking up points. Researchers have observed that the kids now love to compete with each other and keep track of their respective scores.

Behind this powerful transformation are digital technologies that feed disruption. Analytics from the games – and the motion sensors – are helping both the children and their doctors keep track of their overall development. Integration with brain-computer interface systems makes this process simple and unobtrusive.

Getting to the Next Level

Initially introduced to a batch of six students at ARC in June 2017, VHab is now being offered to nearly 200 students across three institutes in Kerala – ARC, Jeevaniyam, and CADRRE.

Physiotherapists are thrilled by the results. “Earlier, the kids were reluctant to do the same exercises every day. But now they keep asking us when their turn will come next,” says Ambili Francis of ARC.

“The discomfort they used to experience when trying out new movements or exercises no longer seems to be as much of an obstacle,” she continues.

No statistics can, however, capture what these updates mean to the participating families, for whom the simplest of movements made by the kids – such as lifting a spoon to their mouths – bring the greatest joy.