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App Prototype Disguises Physical Therapy Exercises Within Augmented Reality Gameplay

Ketki Jadhav
Screenshots from a prototype of Wabbit, a mobile game created by students at Carnegie Mellon University. The game is meant to help patients in stroke recovery complete physical therapy tasks.

A mobile game prototyped by Carnegie Mellon University students recently finished as a finalist in a National Geographic competition. The augmented reality app is designed to help patients in stroke recovery complete physical therapy tasks.

Wabbit, the game created at CMU by students Ketki Jadhav, Tiffany Chen and Marvin Kennis, uses a smartphone's camera to display real-world surroundings on the screen. It then overlays the real world with animated images from a farm, such as a row of crops. Users then use their actual hand to reach in front of the phone to interact with the images and perform tasks.

"These different tasks are disguised as different farming tasks, but they’re actually physical therapy tasks," said Chen. "For example, the one we prototyped is pulling out beets out of the ground. So that’s a motion to help you work on your grip strength and your ability to pull and lift."

Jadhav said the team, all of whom study human-computer interaction at CMU, originally created the app for a class project. She said that in their research, they found that in many cases, insurance will only cover physical therapy for stroke patients for the first few weeks, after which they have to pay for sessions out of pocket. The app could potentially represent a lower-cost alternative.

Deborah Josbeno, associate professor of physical therapy at the University of Pittsburgh, said that stroke patients often experience a loss of motor function after suffering a stroke, and require physical therapy to essentially re-train their body to perform certain movements.

"Particularly for upper-limb recovery after stroke, evidence shows that the best interventions are repetitive, task-oriented and provide the patient with an appropriate challenge," said Josbeno. 

Josbeno said that a game like Wabbit would check these boxes while allowing patients to practice from the comfort of their home, adding that it would be good to customize the game's functions as much as possible to fit the needs of different patients.

The Wabbit team submitted a video detailing their prototype idea to National Geographic's Chasing Genius competition, and finished as one of 10 finalists from a pool of more than 1,000 submissions across the U.S. 

"The competition made us realize that [Wabbit] has much more potential than we thought," said Jadhav.

She said the team has not yet decided what the next steps will be in the game's development.