Future.e. s : a virtual reality headset for people with disabilities
Open the hand then close the hand. A simple gesture that Paul Monnier, who became quadriplegic following an accident, cannot accomplish in real life. But in virtual reality (VR), so. Together with the team of I. C. E. B. E. R. G., a company specializing in VR, they have developed a rehabilitation program for people with reduced mobility. A project presented during the 2019 edition of the festival Futur.e. s, which presents the latest French and international digital advances. Equipped with a VR headset and sensors, the user sees in front of him a gesture that he must try to reproduce, such as opening his hand or bending a finger. “Research is very much focused on devices that can help patients walk again . We decided to focus on the upper limbs, ” explains Dr. Amaury Solignac, CEO of the company.
It all started a year ago, during a simple conversation in a bar. Vincent Rieuf, head of virtual reality at I. C. E. B. E. R. G, talks with his friend Paul Monnier, head of Défis d’hommes, an association that focuses on the different types of rehabilitation existing around the world. “Paul started talking to me about rehabilitation and VR. I said I was interested in these kinds of projects. Some time later, he came back to me to bring me a huge file. It contained all the scientific publications that showed a contribution of this technology for people with disabilities. So I said banco,” recalls Vincent Rieuf.
The blue sensors detect nerve impulses and reproduce the gesture in the VR headset (here the image is on the screen). Photo credit: Science and the Future
Within a year, two programmes were developed. The first works thanks to a VR headset and two small sensors attached thanks to a strap on the arm. In the glasses, the user sees a representation with his own hand. Thanks to the sensors, which track the nerve impulses of the limb, the arm on the screen reproduces the gesture made in reality by the user. “The nerve impulse starts from the brain and goes down the spinal cord to the limbs. It is this neural electrical potential that the sensors record. For my part, I will manage to shake hands in real life and it will be reproduced on the screen. But in the case of a person with a disability, at some point there will be a break in this nervous course. Thanks to the sensors, the hand will still tighten on the screen even if the gesture will not really be realized, ” explains Vincent Rieuf. This exercise should allow people with reduced mobility to reactivate the mobility circuits, from the brain to the muscle.
A well-being ” like after sport”
Same goal for the second program, which works a little differently. It only requires a virtual reality headset and a basic sensor that attaches around the arm. On the screen, the user simply sees an arm in the same position as his own. The purpose of the exercise: imitate, in real life, the movements of the hand that appears on the screen. Open your hand, clench your fist, move your fingers one by one. “It is this program that I have been using for a year now,” explains Paul Monnier. For now, he does not actually manage to open and close his hand as on the screen. But the virtual reality exercise helps him in his rehabilitation process. “After a session, I feel a kind of fatigue associated with a well-being like after sports. I also feel tingling, like small burns. And I also notice that my left hand has become more flexible than the right. She describes herself. For me, to gain even 5% of motor skills, it would already be huge.”In parallel, Paul Monnier is undergoing rehabilitation in a specialized center in Italy. A program that represents a significant time and cost for him. “A VR session is very different from a physio session. It is not the same fatigue, nor the same feeling.”
Validate their approach
The creators of the project hope to make these two VR programs complementary exercises to conventional rehabilitation. The device is intended to be non-invasive, risk-free and low-cost. “We would like to make ourselves known to laboratories and to reach out to researchers to validate our approach. The idea would be to measure the real impact of using this program and the positive feedback on muscle condition,” explains Vincent Rieuf. The project is looking for sponsors but wants to remain Open source, that is to say accessible to all, in order to be able to benefit the most patients.
For now, the company only has two models, one made available to Paul Monnier and the second on which they work in their premises. Several improvements are to be made in the coming months, such as adding the right arm to Paul’s program, in order to make the two upper limbs work. A playful dimension must also be integrated into the project, so that training is more like a game than an exercise.