Researchers from a number of different departments at ISU have been collaborating on an augmented reality device designed to help those who have lost function in one arm, usually stroke victims, regain movement.
The project, which is in its fourth and final year, involves using a virtual reality world to essentially “trick” patients into using their arm.
“The main idea of this is to have a virtual reality system where patients can see the motion they intend to do,” said Alba Perez-Gracia, ISU chair and associate professor of mechanical engineering, and one of the lead researchers on the project.
For the last four years, the researchers have been working on building the virtual reality environment; now that it’s finished, it will be tested on patients to determine its effectiveness.
The project began as the brainchild of Perez-Gracia and a researcher from Texas A&M University with whom she collaborates often. After the project’s conception, the other researcher moved to California State University, however, so all three universities are credited as collaborators.
“It started the way I guess many research projects start,” Perez-Gracia said. “We were coming from a background of working on prosthetic and robotic hands, so we have been working with human subjects and robotics for quite some time, and we just thought this would be a cool new avenue to try.”
Perez-Gracia said the very first step of the project was to find and train student researchers, which she said took quite some time. Overall, eight student researchers have collaborated on the project: Omid Heidari, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering, master of science students A.J. Alriyadh, Asib Mahmud, Vahid Pourgharibshahi and John Roylance, and undergraduate students Dillan Hoy, Madhuri Aryal and Merat Rezai. Additionally, Nancy Devine, the associate dean of the ISU School of Rehabilitation and Communications Sciences and Marco Schoen, a professor of mechanical engineering, served as co-researchers, and Eydie Kendall, an assistant professor of physical and occupational therapy also collaborated on the project.
Once the research team was put together, they then started the process of capturing the motion of the arm and building the model based on that.
“First we needed data from a healthy body,” Heidari said. “We put markers on the body and capture the motions, then we analyze those motions based on the data. And we can create a model that will act like a real arm.”
Pourgharibshahi added that they also had to account for system errors when designing the arm.
“We take data based on the system, which has error,” he said. “So I’m trying to minimize, and ideally kill off completely, [those errors] to come up with a better design.”
After designing the arm, the researchers also had to build the virtual reality system with which the arm will interact. The patient will be able to wear a VR headset, and use their functioning arm to play a variety of games that involve actions such as throwing balls or stacking cubes. However, whichever arm they perform the action with, they will see it being done on the screen with the opposite arm. This is done in the hopes that it can essentially trick a patient’s brain into using the non-functional arm.
“When you see an action being performed, it activates the same part of your brain as when you are performing that action,” Perez-Gracia said.
“We want to ask for another grant,” she said. “We want to expand it so it can be used not only on post-stroke patients, but in some other rehabilitation therapy.