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Barron Associates, Inc. was awarded a grant from the National Institute of Health to develop a motion tracking gaming system that would be used for occupational therapy objectives. The goal was to find an innovative way to help stroke victims relearn how to do everyday activities while tracking the movement made by their limbs. The challenge was to find out how we could use motion tracking technology with game-based learning to create a fun way of relearning how to complete everyday tasks.
After a detailed analysis and comprehensive partnership put in place, Barron Associates and Designing Digitally, Inc. were up for the challenge of developing a 3D serious game that integrated motion tracking using the Microsoft Kinect. During the development of this project, Barron Associates was responsible for the overall vision, incorporation of clinical objectives (e.g. required range of motion and cognitive difficulty levels), development of Kinect-based motion tracking software, and logging of motor skill and cognitive performance metrics. Designing Digitally built the Unity 3D based VOTA™ application, developed Kinect-based avatar movement within Unity 3D, and created storyboards, learning activities, avatars, artwork, objects, animation, audio, rewards, user controls, and game sequencing.
VOTA™ was developed in recognition of the need for a game based learning application for stroke therapy that is fun, accessible, and meaningful in the context of occupational therapy objectives – in other words relearning skills that permit functional independence at home. Task-directed therapy appears to be a critical element to the regeneration of cortical function in regions of the brain responsible for related neurological activity. The VOTA™ serious game was focused around a 3D scenario system that allows patients to use their arms to put away groceries, cook dinner, and do actions they will face every day.
During the VOTA™ 3D serious game, motion tracking software works behind the scenes to record the detailed motion histories of arm movements during gameplay. These are automatically parsed according to the start and stop events for each subtask and then automatically processed by VOTA™ software to generate metrics that correlate with level of motor skill and cognitive performance. These measures include sub-task completion time, a normalized speed metric, mean arrest period ratio, and range of motion.
Currently VOTA™ is being implemented in hospitals and physical therapy clinics throughout the United States for testing purposes. IEEE, an organization that researches technology advancements, conducted a clinical study to compare the results of stroke patients using VOTA™ to those undergoing conventional therapy. They found that the serious game sessions resulted in significantly greater motor gains and an increase in activation in the primary cortex. As patients played the serious game in a therapy setting, researchers observed they made more than five times as many movements than patients in conventional therapy sessions. This increase in activity, along with relatable tasks for patients to complete, likely led to the greater motor gains.
In addition, the VOTA™ project was awarded the 2013 Brandon Hall Award for Best Use of Gaming in Learning category. The VOTA™ effort is now under review by the National Institute of Health to determine whether the 2.0 version of the serious game will be funded.
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