A team from the University of California (UC) Merced and UC Davis are collaborating on a new system that uses avatars and patient-specific motions for physical therapy treatment. Marcelo Kallmann, PhD, a UC Merced associate professor and computer scientist, has partnered with Jay Han, MD, of UC Davis to develop virtual physical therapy software. With the help of engineers and physical therapists, the team has developed a low-cost prototype that uses Kinect. The prototype is presently being evaluated at UC Davis, and refinements are made as physical therapists provide input.

A news report from California Healthline notes that the prototype’s genesis began at UC Merced in a room with a “powerwall,” which is a 3D, floor-to-ceiling projection screen. Graduate student Carlo Camporesi says, “We realized one possible application was physical therapy.” Kallmann explains that the user has a virtual human in front of them, and the patient or user watches a computer-generated character demonstrate a set of exercises and then repeats them. The user’s avatar appears on screen as well so the patient can see him or herself performing the exercises.

The California Healthline news report indicates that the software has a menu of exercises the therapist can provide to the patient; however, the therapist can also customize the program by adding exercises specific to a particular patient’s need. The new system can detect how well the patient is following the demonstration and can adjust the exercises in response. Kallmann is working to determine what parameters a therapist may want to control, such as speed and pause functions.

Currently, there’s no fixed deadline on when the program will be sold commercially, as indicated in the California Healthline news report. Kallmann says, “We are after longer-term funding to continue to develop ideas.”

Linda Johnson, PT, states, “I think it’s got great potential.” Johnson adds, “Physical therapy is unique because what we do is hands on, but this is an interesting way to meld technology with therapy in general, and it may allow us to extend the time between office visits rather than just seeing them automatically.”

[Source: California Healthline]