By Patrick Farrell, CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE
Four years after Microsoft introduced the innovative Xbox Kinect motion sensor, the Baltimore-based software startup Rehabtics is aiming to use that same technology to revolutionize the physical rehabilitation industry.
The software’s game-like interface—based on the Unity game engine—tracks users' speed and range of movement to generate a variety of statistics that physicians can utilize for therapy.
Customization settings allow users to create a character, pick an environment—ranging from a kitchen to a sports field—and then complete exercises and play games tailored to each individual’s rehabilitation program.
The brainchild of Xiaoxu Kang, the idea for Rehabtics was born during Kang’s tour of a biomedical prosthetics robotics plant while obtaining her master’s degree in biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
At the time, the lab was developing technology which recorded brain signals to control prosthetic arms for amputees.
"It was cool, but invasive … it took a long time to get to the market,” Kang said, noting that oftentimes biomedical engineering projects are both lengthy and costly endeavors.
"We wanted something that could go to market quickly—a low-cost device that everyone could use," she said.
From there, the idea for Rehabtics was born.
"I had seen motion technology in action in the Xbox video game systems—games including sports and dancing where the system could track movements," she said. "'That was it!' I thought."
The team of designers, consisting of both current students and alumni from the Maryland Institute College of Art, allowed Kang to bring her initial vision and medical knowledge to a reality, and she said she feels "very lucky to have such a large team with complementary skill sets."
For now, the price is to be determined. The Kinect sensor itself currently retails for as low as $99.
Kang and her team of developers hope that by creating interactive game software that incorporates physical therapy exercises in an engaging manner, they will encourage patients to continue their physical therapy treatment from the comfort of home—after they have left hospitals and clinics.
"We’re not trying to create new physical therapy," said Kang. "We’re trying to extend the clinical practice to every patient’s home—and make it available 24/7."
While the therapy techniques may not be new, this novel method of remote administration could very well open doors for the industry, as it possesses potential to revolutionize not only at home therapy, but in-patient care as well. In that regard, the vision of Rehabtics has evolved beyond Kang’s initial expectations.
"We imagined it would only be a system for home," Kang said, "but hospitals and clinical managers have thought of more scenarios to use our system."
Kang believes that this clinical use will allow patients to become comfortable with the software-based rehabilitation with a doctor’s presence, and then take that same technology home to continue treatment.
The result of this, Kang says, will be a reduction in the average patient’s length of stay, and in turn, a reduction in hospital costs for inpatient treatment.
While interactive games are the ultimate goal, for now the developers are still focused on completing the software’s database of movements and exercises.
Once completed, the team hopes to sign a contract with Johns Hopkins University—a deal that would put the software in the hands of around 60 physical therapists to treat an upwards of 2,000 patients, according to Kang.