By cleverly linking five Wii Balance Boards, a team of Rice University undergraduates has combined the appeal of a video game with the utility of a computerized motion-tracking system that can enhance the progress of patients at Shriners Hospital for Children-Houston.
The Rice engineering students created the new device using components of the popular Nintendo game system to create a balance training system.
What the kids may see as a fun video game is really a sophisticated way to help them advance their skills. The Wii Balance Boards lined up between handrails will encourage patients age 6 to 18 to practice their balance skills in an electronic gaming environment. The active handrails, which provide feedback on how heavily patients depend on their arms, are a unique feature.
Many of the children targeted for this project have cerebral palsy, spina bifida or amputations. Using the relatively inexpensive game console components improves the potential of this system to become a cost-effective addition to physical therapy departments in the future.
Steven Irby, an engineer at Shriners' Motion Analysis Laboratory, pitched the idea to Rice's engineering mentors after the success of last year's Trek Tracker project, a computer-controlled camera system for gait analysis that was developed by engineering students at Rice's Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK).
The engineering seniors who chose to tackle this year's new project -- Michelle Pyle, Drew Berger and Matt Jones, aka Team Equiliberators -- hope to have the system up and running at Shriners Hospital before they graduate next month.
"He (Irby) wants to get kids to practice certain tasks in their games, such as standing still, then taking a couple of steps and being able to balance, which is pretty difficult for some of them," Pyle said. "The last task is being able to take a couple of steps and then turn around."