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Mixed Reality Rehabilitation provides stroke patients physical therapy

To assist patients with physical therapy, researchers in the Arts, Media and Engineering (AME) program at Arizona State University have utilized cutting-edge research to develop a computerized Mixed Reality Rehabilitation system.

Photo by Jessica Slater

April 30, 2009

TEMPE, Ariz. – People who suffer strokes and Parkinson’s disease patients must undergo extensive physical therapy to relearn use of their limbs. To assist patients with their physical therapy, researchers in the Arts, Media and Engineering (AME) program at Arizona State University have utilized cutting-edge research to develop a computerized Mixed Reality Rehabilitation system.

Following four years of academic research and implementation in a laboratory setting, AME installed a scaled version of the Mixed Reality Rehabilitation system at the Rhodes Rehabilitation Institute at Banner Baywood Medical Center’s Mesa, Ariz. facility. The Banner Baywood-AME partnership allows 30 stroke patients at the Mesa location to take part in a study using the system starting in April 2009.

While using the Mixed Reality Rehabilitation system, patients receive immediate feedback on their movement performance as well as direction for improvement. Patients engage with audiovisual scenes, enabling them to practice physical movements that expedite their recoveries. They are positioned in front of a video screen and a set of sound speakers. Sensory equipment tracks their movements in real time and connects them to interactive images and sounds. For instance, patients learn to move their arms efficiently to make puzzle-like images converge on the screen. The image convergence is accompanied by an interactive music composition that helps patients improve the timing of their movement. The system’s digital and physical aspects are algorithmically adapted to each individual patient’s needs and progress.

The system was not developed to replace physical therapists, but complement and enhance physical therapy at the clinical setting and also to allow continuous rehabilitation training at the home. The future goal is to get the Mixed Reality Rehabilitation system into an adaptable, portable low-cost platform that patients can use in their homes. Some of the Banner Baywood patients involved in the study that started at the Mesa location this April will have the opportunity to take home a prototype home-training system. The home system will give the patients freedom to continue their rehabilitation training on their own on a daily basis, between sessions with trained medical professionals. Trained professionals also will be able to remotely monitor a patient’s work with the home system. This can help reduce the number of trips a patient needs to take to a hospital for physical therapy. Not all patients have ready access or transportation to rehabilitation facilities at hospitals, clinics and medical centers to help them recover quickly.

“Our system encourages patients to be actively involved in their rehabilitation in the clinical setting and the home and helps them in everyday life,” says Thanassis Rikakis, AME director. “The collaboration among researchers puts the project at the leading edge of today’s trend of employing virtual-reality technology in medical rehabilitation.”

The Mixed Reality Rehabilitation system was developed by AME researchers across several academic disciplines, including bioengineering, computer science and engineering, electrical engineering, media arts, music and psychology. The system’s brilliance is a result of ASU’s commitment to knowledge fusion, reinforcing the New American Universityprinciples of excellence, access and impact. Students have the opportunity to team up with others outside their areas of expertise and touch the community in ways they may not have thought possible when they began their academic careers.

AME’s Mixed Reality Rehabilitation system is a direct result of the forward-thinking partnerships that commenced within academic halls and labs that now engage the community through hospitals and homes; potentially impacting people in need all over the world.

The Arts, Media and Engineering Program (AME), a collaborative initiative between the Herberger College of the Arts and the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering, provides transdisciplinary graduate degrees and conducts research in experiential media. AME incorporates the combined expertise of 14 departments and 49 faculty members from across the university to offer a PhD in Media Arts and Sciences, as well as 15 concentrations in degrees of collaborating units spanning arts, sciences and engineering. AME faculty and students develop and apply rapidly changing technology to enhance education, health and everyday living. For more information about AME, visit

Media Contact:
Wendy Craft 
Media Relations