Cerebral Palsy Family Network has released a video showing children and teens with cerebral palsy delighting in playing video games using a new technology. The players, some with visual impairment, used gestures instead of keyboards.
The gaming technology is under development at the UCLA/Orthopaedic Hospital's Cerebral Palsy Center, in conjunction with the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies (USC-ICT). It was demonstrated earlier this year at a Family Forum, which CP Family Network videotaped.
"The video shows kids using gestures to manipulate video games. We wanted to capture the excitement about this new resource for kids, and talk to the researchers who developed it," said Teresa Kelly, director of CPFN relationship development.
Eileen Fowler, Ph.D., head clinical researcher for the project, said the development team will release a website by the end of the year where parents can get instructions on computer and Kinect requirements along with links to access free games. The two games that were demonstrated at the Family Forum were Tux Racer and Miami Shark.
"The games are equipped with a toolkit that will allow users to assign gestures instead of mouse and keyboard input to operate the games. This allows for user-customized, body-based control of existing off-the-shelf computer games on the PC using the Microsoft Kinect sensor," Dr. Fowler said.
The initial funding for this project was provided by Cerebral Palsy International Research Foundation with additional support from the CP Family Network. Interviewed for the video were Dr. Fowler, Dr. Belinda Lange, of USC-IT, and Dr. James Blackman, medical director, CPIRF.
Dr. Fowler and Dr. Lange provided the CP Family Network with answers to some other key questions:
Q. Who is this technology going to be suitable for (functional parameters)?
At this point in time, the technology is most suitable for use by people who have some motor control of their elbows and/or shoulder joints and/or trunk. The technology can be used by people while standing or sitting in a chair or wheelchair. The number of joints that are under voluntary control will affect the number and type of gestures that can be used to interact with the games. A number of different games can be played and each individual can play using different gestures based on their level of movement. When using a wheelchair, it is difficult for the technology to visualize the leg clearly so gestures involving lower limb movement within a wheelchair cannot currently be accommodated.
Q. What's the formal name of the product?
The name of the "middle ware" program is Flexible Action and Articulated Skeleton Toolkit (FAAST). FAAST was developed by the USC-Institute for Creative Technologies. FAAST is designed as middleware to facilitate integration of full-body control with games and virtual reality applications.
Q. Will it be able to interface with all available video games?
FAAST allows us to provide gesture-based control of games that can be played on the computer. The FAAST does not allow for control of games on the Xbox platform. FAAST allows us to assign gestures to keyboard and mouse controls. We have been using PC games that are freely available on the internet. We chose games that were fun and had the fewest number of different keyboard clicks necessary to play. That way a small number of gestures are needed.
Two games that we used initially were Tux Racer (Jasmin F. Patry) and Miami Shark (Mausland Entertainment). Tux Racer is easiest for someone with few available gestures and visual impairment (e.g. there is less activity with a clear contrast between the background and the penguin). To be a high scorer in Miami Shark takes greater voluntary control but the user can score points even if they have little movement, making it a positive experience for all. That is why we started with these two games. We are now working on using FAAST with additional games, some of which are more difficult to master. Once users establish their unique gesture templates to operate the keyboard, they may eventually be able to adapt games that they find independently by searching the internet.
Q. What do families need to use the technology?
Families need to have a fairly new computer with Windows 7 or 8, adequate speed and storage and a Microsoft Kinect for PC sensor with a power cord (The Xbox is NOT required). All of the specific requirements will be listed on the website.
Q. What can families do to help encourage such research?
Tell Microsoft and other gaming companies about the importance of offering products that are accessible to people with disabilities.
The Cerebral Palsy Family Network is a 501-C3 non-profit organization whose mission is to provide medical and legal resources to families and children with cerebral palsy.