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VR and Haptics for Rehabilitation

A combined device aims to help patients recover from a stroke or injury.
Johan Beskow of SenseGraphics demonstrates Curictus. Credit: Technology Review

At the IEEE’s Virtual Reality 2010 conference in Waltham, MA this week, researchers and companies are demonstrating technologies that combine virtual reality and haptics.

Some of these technologies are designed for medical rehabilitation. For example, a device made by Swedish company Curictus combines a haptic stylus from SensAble called the Phantom Omni with a pair of virtual reality glasses and monitor. The stylus moves freely on the mount, but becomes more or less resistant depending on the user’s onscreen actions. In a demo at the conference, I donned 3-D glasses and used the stylus to push virtual blocks around. The stylus pushed back when one block was pushed into another as it would in the real world. Pressing a button on the device and rotating a block around produced the centripetal force, which I felt through the stylus.

This type of set-up can be used for rehabilitation. Turning exercises into a computerized game encourages patients to complete their exercises and keeps precise records of their performance, says Tommy Forsell at SenseGraphics, a company that provides open-source software for the combined device.

In another game, I used the stylus as a hammer to hit 3-D pop-up images. This game is designed to measure stroke patients’ response times and the accuracy of their actions.

The technology from SenseGraphics and SensAble has also been used to train doctors and dentists, and by veterinary students at the Royal Veterinary College in London to learn how to treat pregnant cows, says Forsell.

The prototype is currently being used in several rehabilitation centers in Sweden. See an older version of the device in action here.

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