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Wii Balance Boards Are Actually Good for Something

| 22 Apr 2011 20:10

A group of engineering students are custom-building a game with Wii Balance Boards to help patients at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Houston, TX.

People who suffer from debilitating diseases like cerebral palsy or spina bifida often have to find motivation to relearn how to walk. Steven Irby, an engineer at Shriners' Motion Analysis Laboratory, realized - perhaps after reading of the healing power of games in Jane McGonigal's Reality is Broken - that humans learn the best when playing. Given a budget of $2,000, he challenged a group of Rice University undergraduates to make his design a reality. Michelle Pyle, Drew Berger and Matt Jones, collectively known as Team Equiliberators used five Wii Balance Boards in tandem, along with custom-built handrails to provide tactile pressure feedback to a PC. The contraption will be used to encourage children to practice their skills by building on their scores.

"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 actual game, written by computer science student Jesus Cortez, tasks players with shooting opposing monsters by hitting specific points on the Wii Balance boards with their feet. Eventually, as the children progress in skill level, the game will deduct points for leaning on the handrails, further encouraging the patients to use their legs to balance.

The Wii Balance were used in lieu of much more expensive sensor plates and they provide more than enough information for the project's purposes. "Small force plates that people commonly use for such measurements cost at least a couple of grand, but Wii boards - and people have done research on this - give you a pretty good readout of your center of balance for what they cost," Pyle said.

I don't think that you'll ever see an apparatus like this in your local mall's arcade - if it even has an arcade, Christ I'm old - but I'm glad to see that people are thinking about how games can heal, instead of hurt, for once.

Source: Rice University

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