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Wii key to helping kids balance
Date:4/12/2011

evice 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 game requires patients to shoot approaching monsters by hitting particular spots with their feet as they step along the Wii array, computer science student Jesus Cortez, one of the game's creators, explained. The game gets harder as the patients improve, he said, and the chance to rack up points gives them an incentive.

A further step, not yet implemented, would be to program feedback from the handrails into the game. Leaning on the rails would subtract points from the users' scores, encouraging them to improve their postures. The game would also present challenges specific to younger and older children to keep them engaged.

The programming team also includes undergraduate Irina Patrikeeva and graduate student Nick Zhu. Studio arts undergraduate Jennifer Humphreys created the artwork.

The system's components include a PC, the Wii boards (aligned in a frame) and two balance beam-like handrails that read how much force patients are putting on their hands. Communications to the PC are handled via the Wii's native Bluetooth protocol.

The students said their prototype cost far less than the $2,000 they'd budgeted. Rice supplied the computer equipment and LabVIEW software they needed to create the diagnostic software that interfaces with Shriners' existing systems, and they purchased the Wii Balance Boards on eBay.

"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.

Jones, who is building the final unit for delivery to Shriners, said he wants patients to
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Contact: David Ruth
druth@rice.edu
713-348-6327
Rice University
Source:Eurekalert  

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