Bored by physical therapy? Focus on citizen science instead

February 23, 2017, NYU Tandon School of Engineering
Researchers hacked the Microsoft Kinect game system to become the sensor and control system for physical therapy exercises that doubled as citizen science contributions. Credit: NYU Tandon, PLoS ONE

Researchers at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering have devised a method by which patients requiring repetitive rehabilitative exercises, such as those prescribed by physical therapists, can voluntarily contribute to scientific projects in which massive data collection and analysis is needed.

Citizen science empowers people with little to no scientific training to participate in research led by professional scientists in different ways. The benefit of such an activity is often bidirectional, whereby professional scientists leverage the effort of a large number of volunteers in or analysis, while the volunteers increase their knowledge on the topic of the scientific endeavor. Tandon researchers added the benefit of performing what can sometimes be boring or painful exercise regimes in a more appealing yet still therapeutic manner.

The citizen science activity they employed entailed the environmental mapping of a polluted body of water (in this case Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal) with a miniature instrumented boat, which was remotely controlled by the participants through their physical gestures, as tracked by a low-cost motion capture system that does not require the subject to don special equipment. The researchers demonstrated that the natural user interface offers an engaging and effective means for performing environmental monitoring tasks. At the same time, the citizen science activity increased the commitment of the participants, leading to a better motion performance, quantified through an array of objective indices.

NYU Tandon researchers reported that volunteers who performed repetitive exercises while contributing as citizen scientists were more effective in their physical therapy motions. In the experiment, the volunteers controlled a small boat monitoring the polluted Gowanus Canal by performing hand and arm motions using the Microsoft Kinect motion capture system. Credit: NYU Tandon, PLoS ONE

Visiting Researcher Eduardo Palermo (of Sapienza University of Rome), Post-doctoral Researcher Jeffrey Laut, Professor of Technology Management and Innovation Oded Nov, late Research Professor Paolo Cappa, and Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Maurizio Porfiri provided subjects with a Microsoft Kinect sensor, a markerless human motion tracker capable of estimating three-dimensional coordinates of human joints that was initially designed for gaming but has since been widely repurposed as an input device for natural user interfaces. They asked participants to pilot the boat, controlling thruster speed and steering angle, by lifting one arm away from the trunk and using wrist motions, in effect, mimicking one widely adopted type of rehabilitative exercises based on repetitively performing simple movements with the affected arm. Their results suggest that an inexpensive, off-the-shelf device can offer an engaging means to contribute to important scientific tasks while delivering relevant and efficient physical exercises.

"The study constitutes a first and necessary step toward rehabilitative treatments of the upper limb through and low-cost markerless optical systems," Porfiri explains. "Our methodology expands behavioral rehabilitation by providing an engaging and fun , a tangible scientific contribution, and an attractive low-cost markerless technology for human motion capture."

Explore further: Virtual peer pressure in citizen science

Related Stories

Virtual peer pressure in citizen science

August 25, 2016

Peer pressure is a proven social motivator, and seeing a friend or colleague succeed at a task can boost individual effort. Researchers at the New York University Tandon School of Engineering probed this decidedly human attribute—sensitivity ...

Kinect research captures game play exertions

July 17, 2015

A Kinect sensor has proved to be an unlikely tool to help estimate the amount of energy that people expend while they are playing video games that utilise the sensor technology.

Motorized prosthetics improves lives of amputees

August 12, 2016

When asked about her chosen field, Deanna Gates, director of the Rehabilitation Biomechanics Laboratory at the University of Michigan, always joked that she wanted to make Luke Skywalker's hand.

Recommended for you

Electrode shape improves neurostimulation for small targets

April 24, 2018

A cross-like shape helps the electrodes of implantable neurostimulation devices to deliver more charge to specific areas of the nervous system, possibly prolonging device life span, says research published in March in Scientific ...

China auto show highlights industry's electric ambitions

April 22, 2018

The biggest global auto show of the year showcases China's ambitions to become a leader in electric cars and the industry's multibillion-dollar scramble to roll out models that appeal to price-conscious but demanding Chinese ...

After Facebook scrutiny, is Google next?

April 21, 2018

Facebook has taken the lion's share of scrutiny from Congress and the media about data-handling practices that allow savvy marketers and political agents to target specific audiences, but it's far from alone. YouTube, Google ...

Robot designed for faster, safer uranium plant pipe cleanup

April 21, 2018

Ohio crews cleaning up a massive former Cold War-era uranium enrichment plant in Ohio plan this summer to deploy a high-tech helper: an autonomous, radiation-measuring robot that will roll through miles of large overhead ...

How social networking sites may discriminate against women

April 20, 2018

Social media and the sharing economy have created new opportunities by leveraging online networks to build trust and remove marketplace barriers. But a growing body of research suggests that old gender and racial biases persist, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.