UK University Investigating How Kinect Can Help Stroke Victims

Mark Drapeau (Washington, DC) —

While the Kinect device debuted by Microsoft back in Nov. 2010 is most widely known for revolutionizing how people can play games in their living rooms, the blog EuroGamer is reporting that UK researchers are now studying its relevance to understanding facial expressions of stroke victims.

Image from EuroGamer.

Nottingham Trent University was awarded an 18-month, £347,000 grant to design a system that tracks stroke patients’ facial expressions, transforms them into an avatar, and analyses issues with facial expressions in time and space.

According to EuroGamer,the grant recipient Dr. Philip Breedon related,

“It is hoped that improved rehabilitation will be achieved through two methods; firstly by the patient themselves getting real-time feedback on position and magnitude of asymmetries on the face, along with their changes over time, thus showing where to concentrate their efforts.

“Secondly, the therapist will get to see data produced whenever the patient exercises. This increased data should help improve diagnosis and planned recovery.

“It is crucial that a non-technical person should be able to use the system without difficulty; so much emphasis will be placed on designing an intuitive and user friendly experience.”

This is interesting, but far from the first project along these lines. Microsoft’s Office of Civic Innovation (OCI) (which publishes this blog) has long been interested in the applications of Kinect technology in the public sector, particularly in national security, education, and health. One of our first Publicyte articles was about Kinect applications in health and medicine, in fact.

Last summer, USA Today wrote a front-page story about Kinect’s use in classrooms, particularly with autistic students. They related,

Lakeside preschoolers now regularly compete in Dance Central dance-offs, and more recently, eight students shared a tiny classroom space with the help of Happy Action Theater, a sort of rule-free, multiplayer digital sandbox. Tim Schafer, the game’s designer, said his team built it with “zero assumptions” about players’ abilities. “We were thinking of a birthday party full of toddlers,” he said. “The main mantra was, ‘No failure.’ “

At the University of Michigan, software engineering students this spring designed several Kinect games for children with autism, an assignment from instructor David Chesney. Among the titles in testing: Tickle Monster, in which kids tickle imaginary creatures onscreen and learn about both appropriate touch and facial expressions. “For kids with autism, there’s a certain social awkwardness and a lack of ability to recognize emotion, and to respond to emotion and verbal cues in an appropriate manner,” he said.

Here’s a video about Kinect in action from the Lakeside Center for Autism:

You can watch many more videos along these lines at a Microsoft website dubbed Kinect Effect.

Moving away from education and health applications, there are some really interesting national security and military applications that my colleague Phil West, part of the OCI, has been working on. One scenario has been physical therapy for warfighters and veterans. In a Dec 2012 interview with Defense News, Phil said,

“Microsoft is committing R&D and marketing resources to ensure that the [Defense Department] community is aware of the capabilities of the product, as well as the breadth of our partner community, which includes the system integrators,” said Phil West, Microsoft’s director of public sector solutions. “The targeted scenarios include therapy-related functions, but they also span training and simulation, interactive user interfaces, and so on.”

Phil has also been working on interactive user interfaces, as he pointed out above. He wrote a post on Publicyte’s sister blog FutureFed called “U.S. Army Looking to the Future with Kinect-Based Helicopter HUDs” related to a U.S. Army SBIR solicitation for work on low-cost cockpit technologies [Word doc] and what Microsoft tends to call Natural User Interfaces, or NUI.

As Phil writes in FutureFed, the Army solicitation epitomizes many current trends in government information technology (IT), including:

  • doing more with less in austere budget environments
  • the ongoing evolution of the federal mandate to replace as many custom and Government Off-the-Shelf (GOTS) systems as appropriate with Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) systems
  • increasing acceptance of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies that enable government agencies to incorporate consumer technology into their mission portfolios

Within Microsoft Public Sector, innovation always happens within the context of not only trends in IT but also trends in public sector spending and interests, some of which are outlined above. We believe that, among other things, our inexpensive off-the-shelf “entertainment” technology like Xbox and Kinect can have a huge impact on the education, health, and security sectors in the near future.

Mark Drapeau, Ph.D. is the Director of Innovative Engagement for Public Sector at Microsoft, based in Washington, DC. Read more about the work of the Microsoft Office of Civic Innovation here.

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