Patients recovering from strokes, dystonia and sports injuries could reduce rehabilitation time by 30% with virtual reality gaming platform

Academic and engineering experts from the University of Strathclyde and the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS), have teamed up with UK and European partners to reduce rehabilitation times for patients with stroke, dystonia and sports injuries by up to 30% using video game style technology.

Funded by the European Commission as part of Horizon 2020, an initiative to drive economic growth through research, the two-year PRIME-VR2 project will create a digital environment using virtual reality (VR) within rehabilitation programmes.

The technology aims to improve rehabilitation speed and completion rates by making it more stimulating and will complement traditional rehabilitation methods while also easing the physical demands placed on occupational and physical therapist practitioners.

Structured as a level-based system where patients must complete online games to make progress, the digital platform allows medical staff to track patient progress using gaming data and provide ongoing support virtually.

The technology will help patients develop upper body motor skills to improve movement in their arms, wrists, hands, and fingers and provide personalised activities depending on their unique cognitive and physical impairments. For example, those with the neurological movement disorder dystonia can practice pouring a glass of water in the virtual world without spilling a drop in reality.

The University of Strathclyde and NMIS are supporting industrial partners, Loud1Design with the development of the virtual programme and a prototype bespoke video game controller.  The controller will be custom made for each patient according to their condition and personal requirements using additive manufacturing, a form of 3D printing where an object is built one thin layer at a time, allowing for customisation.

Coordinated by the University of Pisa, the project includes other academic partners such as the Universities of Malta and Oulu, University College London, and industry partners from the technology and gaming world.  Saint James Hospital, Kinisiforo & NICOMED Rehabilitation Centre, and the Global Disability Innovation Hub are providing patient requirements and will monitor progress when the prototypes are complete.

Andrew Wodehouse, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Design, Manufacturing and Engineering Management at the University of Strathclyde, and founder of the European Consortium, said: “We are extremely pleased to be working alongside the consortium on this exciting venture, improving rehabilitation for patients using virtual reality games suited to their individual needs.

“The outcome of this project will make the long recovery process more engaging while permitting the patient’s performance to be recorded accurately, allowing specific and measurable goals to accelerate rehabilitation time. We are all looking forward to the completion of the project, as it will provide a significant milestone for interactive technology in improving physical health and performance.”

Kareema Hilton, Manufacturing Engineer at the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland said: “This is a fantastic project that is allowing us to use developments within digital technology to potentially improve healthcare. The use of additive manufacturing demonstrates the benefits of a flexible design that can be made bespoke to an individual user – in this case to support an individual’s physical needs to assist rehabilitation.

“We’re working closely with our colleagues in the University of Strathclyde and the wider consortium, bringing expertise from a variety of backgrounds to ensure that the virtual platform and physical controller are fully reflective of each patient’s requirements.”

Brian Loudon, Loud1Design owner, said: “I’m delighted to be working on this project alongside Dr Wodehouse and the teams involved. Their human-centred design approach aligns well with my commercial design practice, and PRIME-VR2 is strengthening our industrial-academic collaboration. The expertise and resources from NMIS will allow us to push the envelope of additive manufacturing and responsive design in the delivery of these bespoke VR controllers.”