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 Augmented reality device helps multiple sclerosis patients walk

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Date posted: 07/05/2007

Researchers from the Technion Institute of Technology in Israel have crafted a wearable augmented reality immersion apparatus designed to provide patients suffering from balance disorders with supplemental auditory and visual information to restore normal gait.

According to lead researcher Professor Yoram Baram of the Faculty of Computer Science, the device combines several components, each separately wearable, that combine to form the whole device.

A computer system the size of a mobile phone, containing inbuilt gyroscopes and doppler arrays measures body movement, processes it and sends feedback to the user through earphones, and visually through a HUD display, to guide improvement.

The HUD itself, clips onto a standard pair of glasses, for minimal obviousness. The glasses are either prescription or plain glass, it does not matter. The HUD feeds a display into the eye of a virtual, tiled-floor, which is overlaid on the actual floor, faint enough to tell the actual apart in the case of holes, slopes, or stairs, and provides a baseline for movement.

The researchers found that auditory feedback significantly improved the gait of both MS and Parkinson's patients. Patients showed an average improvement of 12.84% while wearing the device.

There were also positive residual short-term therapeutic effect of 18.75% after use.

Average improvement in stride was 8.30% while wearing the device and 9.93% residually.

"Healthy people have other tools, such as sensory feedback from muscles nerves, which report on muscle control, telling them whether or not they are using their muscles correctly," says Baram. "This feedback is damaged in Parkinson and MS patients and the elderly, but auditory feedback can be used to help them walk at a fixed pace."

Results from a small study (14 randomly selected patients with gait disturbances predominantly due to MS) on the device are published in the February 2007 issue of the Journal of the Neurological Sciences.

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