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Xbox One Kinect used in therapies for kids with cerebral palsy

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It's used for awkward dancing, sports games and gesture controls in video games. Now Microsoft's Kinect motion sensor can add cerebral palsy rehabilitation to its list of uses. 

Researchers at the Bloorview Research Institute in Canada are developing games using the Kinect that help children with cerebral palsy gain their motor function. Speaking to Polygon, researcher Elaine Biddiss said kids with cerebral palsy typically have difficulty extending their limbs like their wrists, elbows and shoulders, so integrating the Kinect into their therapies gives kids the incentive to perform the necessary exercises.

"Rehabilitation is driven by repetitive practice, and that can be boring for kids to do the same thing over and over again," Biddiss said. "But when you put it in a game environemnt with rewards and points, that helps to motivate kids.

"We recognize that games are a fantastic way to get kids to engage in these therapies, and there are a lot of elements to video games that are fundamental to neuroplasticity."

"...there are a lot of elements to video games that are fundamental to neuroplasticity."

Biddiss said the games aren't simply physical therapies with game elements tacked on, though. All the games have been designed with the user experience and the therapeutic benefits in mind. One game is based on a Japanese game called Hole In The Wall, where virtual shapes fly toward the player, and the kids have to try to fit their bodies in the shapes.

"We've had to develop these games ourselves because we can't use commercial games because there's not enough ability to customize them to the needs of the children," she said. "We need more control over the speed settings, or we need more control over what movements the games are trying to get the kids to use."

The games were originally developed for the original Kinect, but they will soon support the new Kinect sensor. According to Biddiss, kids can be tricky to design for and many of them find ways to cheat by taking advantage of the sensor's lack of precision. The hope is the camera-based system of the new Kinect will encourage kids to perform the exercises they need to do in order to benefit from the therapies.

Another reason for the move to the new Kinect is the old sensor couldn't detect if a child was in a wheelchair. This meant therapists often had to tape or cover up the wheelchairs in a different color so the Kinect could detect the child's body.

Bloorview Research Institute's games are not yet commercially available. The games are currently used in clinics at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.