Fitness Game For People with Mobility Disabilities

Modern IT has the potential to make fitness training more varied for people with mobility disabilities. But what exactly is required? Fraunhofer put this question to thalidomide victims, and developed new IT-based fitness training technology in close collaboration with them. The method motivates users with elements found in computer games.

A test subject rocks her upper body from left to right. She rotates her shoulders in little circles. Suddenly she cries out: “Did it! New record!” She has just beaten her personal best in a computer adventure. But this is no ordinary video game flickering on the tablet computer’s screen in front of her: Behind all the excitement is a new kind of fitness tool for people with mobility disabilities. The game’s required movements help the woman exercise motor functions, train concentration and coordination, and improve fitness and stamina. “She controlled her on-screen avatar with the movements of her upper body and the aid of our smart shoulder pad,” says Andreas Huber, scientist at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS in Erlangen. Fitted inside the pad are small sensors that record each movement of the test subject and wirelessly transmit them via Bluetooth to the tablet on the table in front of her, where software processes all the data and relays it to her avatar.

Huber’s shoulder pad is part of the akrobatik@home project. Other elements of the IT-based fitness game, which was created by the firm Exozet Berlin, include a special seat cushion developed by project partner GeBioM for controlling the game by means of weight shifts, voice controls from the Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems FOKUS that enable users to navigate through the game’s menu, and a video communication system from the company Bravis that allows users to interact via webcams. “Nearly fifty percent of adults in Germany suffer from physical impairments of a temporary or permanent nature, whether as result of accidents, injuries or illnesses,” observes Huber. Under the motto “The New Future of Old Age”, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is sponsoring research projects for technical solutions – such as akrobatik@home – that help and enable people to be physically active.

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