Belinda Lange, a research scientist at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies, specializes in developing game-based systems for people with neurological or physical injuries.
Lange and her team created Jewel Mine, a game that leverages 3-D motion-sensing technology to provide customized rehabilitation to service members, veterans and civilians. One of the features of the program is modeled on the 1980s pattern game Simon, but patients must use their bodies to reach for the objects rather than just pushing a button.
“In order to improve motor function, patients need to perform the same motions over and over,” said Lange, who is also an assistant research professor at the USC Davis School of Gerontology. “These exercises are repetitive by design, and that can get boring. Putting them in a game has the potential to keep users motivated.”
Jewel Mine, which can be used for balance training and upper limb reaching training, features tasks that challenge memory and attention. Lange and her team are now tailoring the game to meet the needs of amputees. According to recently released government data, more than 1,500 U.S. servicemen and women have lost limbs serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. These men and women face unique challenges, including learning how to perform rehabilitation exercises with a prosthetic arm or leg.
“The beauty of adapting off-the-shelf gaming systems, like the Microsoft Kinect, for rehabilitation is that we can adjust them for each user, and we can also record the user’s movements and track progress,” Lange said. “Existing games are often too difficult for physical therapy patients or just don’t target the areas they need.”
Jewel Mine was originally developed as part of USC’s Optimize Participation Through Technology/Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (OPTT/RERC), which focuses on building technologies for aging populations and people with disabilities. Lange received funding from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory’s Army Research Office and the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command to modify and evaluate the game with military populations.
Her goal is to make the game available in homes and clinics nationwide so patients can have easy access to engaging training and therapists can monitor and assess their progress, even remotely.
Just over a year ago, producers of the ABC television show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition invited Lange to install her game in a house the producers were building for Allen Hill, a veteran suffering from traumatic brain injury. Lange was able to meet Hill and show him how to use the game.
“That was a researcher’s dream come true,” Lange said. “To be able to see your work make it out of the lab and make a real impact on someone’s life is truly amazing.”