A new wireless game controller entertains children with cerebral palsy and helps with them with their rehabilitation.
Playing video games such as Xbox or Playstation is an everyday practice for some people. But people with disabilities such as cerebral palsy are often locked out of this activity due to game controllers that use a design requiring users to wrap their hand around them.
Now a new wireless game controller that has been specifically designed for children with cerebral palsy could not only help with their rehabilitation, but also give them a form of entertainment that has previously been off-limits.
The i-boll has been developed in collaboration with Flinders University, the University of South Australia and the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide and has involved biomedical engineers, industrial designers, neuroscientists, paediatricians and occupational therapists.
The reason children with cerebral palsy can use the i-boll is the unique design of the game controller — there are no buttons and they don’t need to wrap their fingers around it, which makes it easier for them to play.
The design also ensures they keep both hands on the controller at all times; children with cerebral palsy typically favour the side of their body that functions the best to the detriment of the other side, but i-boll encourages children to use both hands.
It does this through sensors embedded below the surface, which replace the buttons that are typically seen on standard games controllers.
“One of the founding principles for our system was that it only uses hand movements — it didn’t use fine motor controls, such as thumbs and fingers — and it was a way to get children to engage both of their hands and use them while they were engaged in this cognitive activity, while they were playing a computer game,” said David Hobbs, the Chief Investigator for the project.
i-boll initially started as OrbIT, a fully integrated accessible gaming system that was developed for people with limited hand function.
But when the team was trying to commercialise the gaming system, industry and manufacturing feedback picked up on a number of challenges, such as manufacturing.
Based on that feedback, tweaks were made to the system and thus i-boll was born.
OrBIT also delivers haptics feedback to the player during a game, which the team has transitioned over into i-boll as well.
“That’s important because it’s sending signals to the hand, and we want the hands to be receptive to these signals,” Hobbs said.
“But within the controller we actually isolate the vibrations, so it only vibrates on one side of the controller. We’re trying to target what we call that more impaired hand — the hand which doesn’t work so well — so the vibrations actually get delivered to the more impaired hand.”
The team has carried out testing in a number of different ways, including internal testing for the software and hardware, focus groups with able-bodied children, and taking the device to a primary and high school. There has also been a trial with children with cerebral palsy.
“That was really important because we wanted to see where they would put their hands without being told what to do, and how they used the controller,” Hobbs said.
The i-boll has had positive feedback during testing — parents are happy that their children can play video games for the first time, and kids with cerebral palsy also enjoy it.
Hobbs recalls being told one particularly touching story from one parent about their child who has cerebral palsy and was also non-verbal, but had started talking more.
“The reason was he was playing the gaming system and he was really enjoying it and getting a lot out of it and he was doing very well,” Hobbs said.
“His able-bodied sister was also playing with the gaming system using her profile that we gave her, but she couldn’t get to the same levels or achieve the same things in the game that he could, so he was coaching her — he was actually telling her what to do.
“It’s really powerful. It always gives me a bit of a shiver every time I retell the story, but it just harks back to how technology can be an enabler and how technology can actually be a facilitator.”
This article was originally published as “Eye on the ball” in the November 2018 edition of create.