A team of undergraduates at Rice University in Texas have devised a computerized motion-tracking system that uses Wii Balance Boards as a cost-effective method of physical therapy.
By linking five Balance Boards together between a pair of handrails, the team has created a balance training system that it hopes will help children with balance problems, while also providing fun challenges in a video game environment.
The project is aimed at children that have cerebral palsy, spina bifida or amputations. Patients are presented with a game which requires them to hit particular spots on the Balance Boards with their feet, enabling them to shoot at enemies on screen. As the patient improves, the game becomes more difficult, requiring they move more quickly and efficiently.
The team hope to have the system working in Shriners Hospital for Children, Houston, within the next month. Steven Irby, an engineer at Shriners' Motion Analysis Laboratory, pitched the original idea to engineering mentors at Rice University.
"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," said Michelle Pyle, one of the seniors on the project. "The last task is being able to take a couple of steps and then turn around."
"This isn't a measurement device as much as it is a game," Irby said. "But putting the two systems together is what makes it unique. The Wii system is not well suited to kids with significant balance problems; they can't play it. So we're making something that is more adaptable to them."
The students noted that the system cost far less than the $2,000 they had budgeted, with the Balance Boards being less expensive that regular force plates, but giving "a pretty good readout of your center of balance for what they cost".