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Technologists use virtual reality gaming to enhance the experience of exercising for children with disabilities

5 April 2017

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Glyndwr University technologists are set to combine exciting virtual reality gaming with exercise to turbocharge the rehabilitation of children and young adults with disabilities.

Computing academics from Wrexham Glyndwr University are supporting Wrexham-based charity Dynamic in an innovative approach to exercise thanks to a grant of £20,000 from the Welsh Government’s Intermediate Care Fund.

Many children and adults with disabilities find doing exercise is difficult due to weakness, lack of control, fear of falling and pain.

Dynamic provides activities at after school and holiday clubs to enhance the quality of life of some of these children living in the Wrexham area.

The project with Wrexham Glyndwr University will remove the boredom which children with disabilities have with static exercise apparatus by creating sensors which attach to exercise equipment.

Data from the sensors will be fed into a game engine, creating virtual reality scenarios which will make their exercise more fun and interactive.

The VR scenarios will distract the brain from the fear and pain of exercise, boosting the confidence and mobility of children and young adults with disabilities.

Graham Arthurs, Chair of Dynamic Trustees, said, "We are delighted to be working with Wrexham Glyndwr University and provide funds together with support from the Intermediate Care Fund.

“The project aims to harness young people's interest in computer games and link this to Virtual Reality to give a sense of playing a game, moving a bike, car or canoe which in turn tricks the brain into moving while not thinking about time, fear or pain.

“This is a unique opportunity to form a partnership between those who know about the needs of the disabled and those who can create an artificial environment to encourage more mobility that is safe; which in turn encourages more activity while distracting from fear and pain.

“I’m also pleased that young technologists will take this experience of working with disabled people with them throughout their careers."

The funding will be used to purchase new equipment including four HTC Vive’s – market-leading virtual reality hardware – 3D printers, sensors and power PCs.

Nathan Roberts, senior lecturer in computing, said: “This innovative real-world project is immensely valuable to both Dynamic and Wrexham Glyndwr University.

“It promises to improve the lives of young people with disabilities, while providing hands-on experience of the application of virtual reality technology for our students.

“The project has already involved students engaging with the charity and stroke and head injury patients to identify users’ needs and requirements.

“From this information we have started to develop several prototype games that will use both custom sensors and VR to deliver a truly immersive but fun way to exercise.

“Users will be able to attach the custom sensor units to any exercise equipment to provide them with an interactive gaming environment.”