Physiotherapy patients learn to enjoy boring exercises in virtual game environment

Ottawa 04 May 2000Next month, Electronic Publishing - North America Inc. (EP-NA) will introduce its new Virtual Reality Treatment (ViRT) system. ViRT uses Chromokey technology and Gesture Control software to "put" a patient into a virtual game environment allowing him to have fun exercising. The patient is stimulated to exercise for longer periods and more frequently whereas the system monitors the progress of the patient. This evolutionary physiotherapy treatment method which applies technologies borrowed from the entertainment and broadcast industries, has successfully completed an initial field trial at the Riverside Campus of the Ottawa Hospital.


For two and a half weeks, physiotherapy outpatients were given the opportunity to test what has been designed as a developmental model for the introduction of repetitive task therapy to a patient treatment programme. Called ViRT for Virtual Reality Treatment, the system provides an application of Virtual Reality technology to existing physiotherapy treatment methods and a platform for the development of new interactive methods.

Developed as a research project by the Ottawa-based Electronic Publishing - North America Company, ViRT is the brainchild of EP-NA President Bruce Ricketts, who started thinking of different applications for VR technology while he was watching a television show during a business trip to Japan. Fascinated by the appeal and the interest of a number of popular Japanese game-show programmes which rely heavily on virtual reality for participant involvement, Mr. Ricketts decided to investigate the technologies involved to see if newer applications were either available or could be developed.

The technology investigation eventually led to Toronto and the Vivid Group, where the software elements of the programme are being developed, and to Ottawa, where key programme and software/hardware integration elements originate. Protracted negotiations and profound research amounted in the re-application of the technology to the physiotherapy clinic and the initial clinical trials.

A ViRT system is an extension to the type of system we see everyday on the weather channel on television. Here, a forecaster is shown standing in front of a weather map. In reality though, this person is standing in front of a special coloured screen, which generally is green or blue. The TV station's editing system takes the person's image from the camera, eliminates the green screen to isolate the weather person and then superimposes the image over a separate image of the weather map.

In the ViRT system the user stands before a green screen and faces a camera and a large screen monitor. The ViRT camera captures the image of the user and sends it to the processing subsystem. The processing subsystem isolates the user's image and combines it with a treatment scenario. The patient then sees his own image laid over the scenario on the large monitor. The ViRT system takes this technology one step further by allowing the user's image to interact within the scenario, something the weather person can not do with the weather map.

"Both EP-NA and the Ottawa Hospital are delighted with the results of our initial on-site testing", commented Mr. Ricketts. "While some repetitive physiotherapy exercises can become boring over time, the ViRT System provides a challenging and more enjoyable environment for the patient. In turn, this encourages longer, more beneficial involvement on the part of the patient", said Helen Zipes, Clinical Director, Rehabilitation Services. Mr. Ricketts also stressed that ViRT System research is targeted at developing treatment modalities for physiotherapy patients and that he is working closely together with practitioners to accomplish these objectives.

Leslie Versweyveld

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