Virtual reality is set to augment rehabilitation programmes for patients with conditions including stroke, dystonia and sports injuries.

This is the claim of PRIME-VR2, a two-year Horizon 2020 project that aims to reduce rehabilitation times for patients by up to 30 per cent with video game style technology.

Technology used in the project, which includes academic and engineering experts from Strathclyde University and the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS), aims to improve rehabilitation speed and completion rates by making it more stimulating. It is expected to complement traditional rehabilitation methods while easing the physical demands placed on occupational and physical therapists.

Bath team explores virtual reality for improving balance

Structured as a level-based system where patients must complete online games to make progress, the digital platform allows medical staff to track patient progress using gaming data and provide ongoing support virtually.

According to Strathclyde, the technology will help patients develop upper body motor skills to improve movement in their arms, wrists, hands, and fingers and provide personalised activities depending on their unique cognitive and physical impairments. In use, those with the neurological movement disorder dystonia can practice pouring a glass of water in the virtual world without spilling a drop in reality.

Andrew Wodehouse, senior lecturer at the Department of Design, Manufacturing and Engineering Management at  Strathclyde University, and founder of the European Consortium, said: “The outcome of this project will make the long recovery process more engaging while permitting the patient’s performance to be recorded accurately, allowing specific and measurable goals to accelerate rehabilitation time.”

Kareema Hilton, manufacturing engineer at NMIS, holding elements of the flexible design created through additive manufacturing (Image: Strathclyde University/NMIS)

Strathclyde University and NMIS are supporting industrial partners, Loud1Design with the development of the virtual programme and a prototype bespoke video game controller, which will be custom made using additive manufacturing for each patient.

“We are all looking forward to the completion of the project, as it will provide a significant milestone for interactive technology in improving physical health and performance,” added Wodehouse.

Coordinated by the University of Pisa, the project includes academic partners such as the Universities of Malta and Oulu, University College London, and industry partners from the technology and gaming world.

Saint James Hospital, Kinisiforo & NICOMED Rehabilitation Centre, and the Global Disability Innovation Hub are providing patient requirements and will monitor progress when the prototypes are complete.