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A View from Kristina Grifantini

Cheaper Robot Rehabilitation

A modified 3-D game controller helps improve fine motor control.

  • January 15, 2009

Researchers at George Mason University have turned a gaming device into a rehabilitation tool.

The device, dubbed My Scrivener, guides a patient’s hand as she tries to spell out letters or write equations, helping her improve fine motor control. It can record about 100 data points per second to let a doctor analyze the patient’s progress.

Sue Palsbo, founder of Obslap Research, modified Falcon, a 3-D force-feedback game controller made by Novint, a company based in Albuquerque, NM. A hinged arm (called a pantograph) attaches to the device and fastens on top of a regular pen or pencil, leaving room for a user to write with a comfortable grip. A physical therapist then uses My Scrivener software to decide on an exercise for the patient that lets her work toward creating clear, legible script (see video below).

Therapists regularly use this kind of repetitive training to improve motor control in patients, and the new prototype showed “dramatic” improvement for children with ADHD, according to the company, which says that it plans clinical trials this year. It adds that the device could even help diagnose mild physical or cognitive impairments.

Rehabilitation robots tend to be bulky and expensive, but the Falcon costs around $200 and sits on the corner of a desk or table. Another relatively cheap solution is the Wii, which is being used more and more in rehabilitation.

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