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Technology aids rehabilitation

Technology has a human face say European researchers at Orbit.

(i3)

Tony Brooks is waving his hands in front of sensors to manoeuvre a dolphin on a giant screen. The technology he is displaying at one of the world's largest information technology fairs in Basel is designed to help patients with disabilities.

"Information obtained from the body movements can be mapped on a computer," says Brooks, who works for the Danish company, Personics. Therapists are then able to give patients individual feedback.

"Whether it's a well functioning, brain-injured person with a stroke or someone, who's quite severely handicapped and can hardly move, we can take whatever gesture there is - a small head gesture, a mouth movement, even an eye flicker - and we can map that onto whatever we want in the computer, whether visuals or sounds."

One sensor takes the dolphin left to right; another takes it up and down; a third controls lights.

Monitoring patients' progress

Brooks switches to a different preset to demonstrate a balancing exercise. Moving to left or right causes a glass to slide along a tray. The aim is to prevent the glass tipping off the end.

By repeating this exercise over several weeks, the patient's progress can be monitored.

Different presets allow a range of other exercises from virtual painting to throwing a ball.

Brooks has been working on this software for about 12 years. Other members of his team include a neuropsychologist and a physiotherapist. They have been helping to create environments which would suit their particular patients.

Non verbal communication

Until recently, the priority has been to get people with disabilities, online. Now they have an opportunity to express themselves with non-verbal communication. Brooks says the technology allows them to exercise in a much more motivated way than before.

He hopes the product will be available next summer. Initially it will be installed in clinics but the hope is eventually to develop home units so that patients can send their data to their therapists online.

The software has been on show at Orbit Comdex Europe where some 1,300 exhibitors including the biggest international names in computers and telecommunications are displaying their wares.

by Vincent Landon


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