University of Melbourne students develop customized video game controller for kid with cerebral palsy

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Jerome, a seven-year-old boy with cerebral palsy (CP), has been able to play a video game for the first time with the help of a team of Biomedical Engineering Masters students at the University of Melbourne, who co-designed it. Customized video game controller with it.

About 17 million Australians play video games regularly. Australians play an average of 83 minutes per day and 75 percent play video games socially.

However, for children with complex disabilities like Jerome, access to video games and the benefits they offer can be challenging. Jerome’s father Roland told Dr Sam John, senior lecturer in neural engineering, that Jerome “loved watching games on YouTube, but loved playing a video game himself.”

Jerome has decreased motor function and does not have the fine motor ability to use a regular or modified video game controller. To tackle this problem, Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology students Ashwini Abesinghe, Fidel Fabry Halim and Karen Jones set out to create a more accessible video game controller for him.

Dr Sam John said the group worked to develop a range of possible technologies that Jerome could use and spoke to Jerome’s family about how he interacts with technology and assistive devices.

“It became clear that there was no assistive technology that could be purchased that came close to being helpful for Jerome to play a video game. The few that were available were too expensive and not fit for purpose, even with modifications,” said Dr. John.

“We needed a bespoke device fit for purpose and designed to work specifically for Jerome, and the team settled on three technologies that were most likely to be successful.

“We used a rapid-prototyping principle to create a touch button (which does not require fine motor skills), a kick button (Jerome was known to use his foot to apply some pressure) and motion-tracking software (a software that records (by) determining the direction of head movement) as a means of enabling video game control.

Dr. John said that in the first trial with Jerome, the team presented each of the three technologies to control several video games.

“Although the team expected to be surprised, nothing could have prepared us for Jerome’s reaction,” said Dr. John.

For the first time in his life, Jerome was able to play a video game instead of watching his sister play or watching a YouTube video of someone playing a game.”

Dr. Sam John

Student Fidel Fabri Halim said it was a heartbreaking moment.

“It reinforced my belief in the importance of inclusive design and technology that can empower people with disabilities to live fulfilling lives,” said Mr. Halim.

Benefits of video games for children with CP:

  • Video games can play a role in the lives of children with cerebral palsy by providing both entertainment and therapeutic benefits.
  • Games that use motion sensing technology or virtual reality are particularly helpful as part of physical therapy.
  • Some video games can enhance cognitive skills, including problem solving, spatial awareness, and strategic thinking.
  • Multiplayer video games or online gaming communities can provide opportunities for children with cerebral palsy to interact with their peers and build social skills, providing a sense of accomplishment and autonomy.

Over the next five years, the team hopes to expand the project, helping more people with motor function loss to use assistive devices with bespoke controllers designed to suit their individual needs and goals.

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