Virtual world offers real opportunities for children with cerebral palsy
A virtual world that allows children with cerebral palsy (CP) to socialize, exercise and engage in collaborative games from the comfort of their own homes may soon be a reality, thanks to pioneering research by Queen’s computing experts.
“The level of excitement about this project is unlike anything I have ever experienced,” says Nick Graham, director of the Equis Lab and a professor in the School of Computing. “The kids are just so excited to get this game and try it out.”
For children with CP, a lack of muscular strength often means that normal growth can lead to a loss of mobility hampering the children’s ability to socialize and exercise. Dr. Graham hopes that the virtual gaming research carried out in his lab will help address feelings of social isolation and the difficulties children with CP have getting involved in traditional physical exercise.
The technology developed by Dr. Graham’s Equis team uses adapted cycling equipment allowing participants to collaborate in virtual projects and adventures. Similarly to popular computer games like World of Warcraft, the world continues to exist in real-time even when individuals log out. Children are able to come into the world, meet with friends, set up play dates, and do activities together, all at times that suit them.
Dr. Graham’s goal is to be able to set up exercise stations in children’s homes—a development for which funding has been secured. Beyond this, he hopes to more closely examine the ways in which children socialize in the gaming world and investigate any additional health benefits the technology may provide.
“I really feel a great responsibility for us to create something that works and something that these kids can use,” says Dr. Graham. “It goes beyond trying to get the research results and publishing papers. We all have a desperate desire to create technology that works and helps.”
The other Equis lab researchers are PhD student Hamilton Hernandez, master’s student Ameer Hamza, professional programmer Zi Ye, and exchange student Quentin Bellay. The team works in collaboration with Darcy Fehlings at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.
This research is funded by NeuroDevNet and Graphics, Animation and New Media (GRAND), and supported by equipment grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).
For more information about collaborative gaming technology, visit the Equis Lab website.