University of Central Florida health science students recently received top honor for their research presentations illustrating the impact that technology and research being developed can have on the lives of people with accessibility limitations .
The research was done in collaboration with Limbitless management and faculty and specifically focused on life-enhancing technology for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and limb differences, such as congenital amputations members.
The students, Shea McLinden and Katherine Tran, received the recognition at the Southern Biomedical Engineering Conference held recently in New Orleans.
McLinden, a senior, and Tran, a junior, are undergraduate research students at Limbitless Solutions, a nonprofit and direct support organization for UCF.
McLinden received first place in the undergraduate category for his presentation on the use of training video games to improve the use of bionic arms and hands-free wheelchairs. Tran received third place in the undergraduate category for his presentation on developing a custom silicone orthopedic insole, or foot support, for someone born with a birth limb defect affecting their foot. The wheelchair gaming research was funded by a grant from the Pabst Steinmetz Foundation. The undergraduate student research was also supported by funds from the Paul B. Hunter and Constance D. Hunter Charitable Foundation and the Albert E. and Birdie W. Einstein Foundation.
video game training
McLinden presented two oral presentations, both addressing the design and effectiveness of video game training for Limbitless’ bionic arm and hands-free wheelchair project. The projects utilize Limbitless’ video game-based training that converts electromyographic (EMG) muscle flexion into actions of the game character. Training game research development is led by faculty members from the UCF Matt Dombrowski ’05 ’08MFA, with the UCF School of Visual Arts and Design, and Peter Smith ’05MS ’12PhDwith UCF’s Nicholson School of Communication and Media.
McLinden’s presentation, titled “Using EMG and Eye Tracking for Serious Game Control for Populations with Neurodegenerative Diseases,” highlighted novel human-computer interfaces in development that leverage eye tracking in combination with the electromyograph (EMG) detecting contracted muscles in the jaw to control a video game that trains patients to use a patented hands-free wheelchair control system (Limbitless’ Project Xavier) for patients unable to use a traditional joystick, including ALS patients.
The video game training system is designed to train users to operate the wheelchair, with players navigating the game interface using only their eyes before practicing chair operation by contracting their temporal muscles. Students from various disciplines work with research staff and faculty for gamification and development. The accessible interface helps patients learn to control the system in a low-stress, safe environment before driving the system.
Patients’ continued independent mobility is thought to promote greater perceived autonomy and dignity throughout disease progression. The EMG and eye tracking technology will be evaluated in an upcoming research study, building on the results of the earlier clinical trial with the Mayo Clinic.
McLinden also presented the team’s research on training efforts to accelerate learning to use a bionic arm, titled “Improving Muscle Control Via Serious Play for Prosthetic Use.”
McLinden and fellow researchers engaged with UCF students on campus to collect valuable data regarding their participation and application perspective to improve prosthetic user education through gamified simulation using the Surface EMG.
The surface EMG was attached to the patient’s forearm to discretize their muscle signal into a correlated action within the video game.
“The work is important because prosthetic users often reject their devices due to their inability to master them immediately, among other factors including the weight of the prosthesis and potential social stigma,” McLinden says.
Development of a custom foot support
Tran’s project was titled “Development of Advanced Customized Orthoses to Improve Biomechanical Gait for Congenital Symbrachydactyly”. The project aimed to develop a non-invasive technique to help improve foot stability and minimize symptoms of discomfort in patients with congenital foot anomalies. The device works to adapt a unique foot shape to a traditional shoe to improve gait and traction. The project involved manufacturing techniques including in-mold casting, 3D printing and silicon casting.
The job allowed Tran to immerse himself in medical research, patient care, and to use hands-on tools and manufacturing techniques.
“Working with the patient was a rewarding experience as I got to work hands-on to create something special and impactful,” says Tran. “The project showed me the impact of assistive technology and the greater meaning of my work.”