COLORADO SPRINGS - Recovery from a stroke often involves intense physical therapy, multiple trips to the hospital and thousands of dollars in equipment.
However, deep in the halls of the Air Force Academy, mechanical and electrical engineering cadets are developing a system to help patients do that therapy at home and for a fraction of the cost.
It's called Neumimic, and the central piece is the Xbox Kinect, a popular gaming system. The sensors on the Kinect track the patient's movements. The patient moves their body to mimic a stick figure on the screen. The computer records the exercise and calculates whether the patient did it correctly.
"Rather than coming in and saying, 'I think you did better this week,' the therapist or doctor can actually show the patient a number that says you had this much greater motion this week," Cadet Joshua Nielsen said.
Cadets have been developing Neumimic since 2012. It all started when Dr. Glen House at nearby Penrose Hospital asked them to design something to help stroke patients.
"I told them, 'I need a way for patients to exercise without a physical therapist, but still do the motions correctly,'" Dr. House said. " I told them that if they wanted to sell it, they had to keep the costs low, or no one would buy it."
For months, the cadets worked on writing computer code. They soon realized the software could only do so much, so they developed an arm brace.
"For patients who know what they are doing wrong, this can actually help them focus on the right muscle groups," said Cadet John Davis."This is a very important and essential second piece."
While Neumimic is their senior capstone project, for the cadets, this is more than just a class project.
"The end goal is that this would completely revolutionize physical therapy, that it would be in hospitals all over the place or even in people's homes," Cadet Nielsen said.
While they aren't done yet, they're close. The cadets, along with Dr. House, hope to start pitching Neumimic to companies by the end of the year. They said the biggest appeal will be the low cost.
According to Dr. House, the only equipment a patient would need is a computer screen, laptop and Xbox Kinect. After you add the software, Dr. House said the cost for the entire system is about $5,000. He said similar systems cost upwards of $80,000.
Both Dr. House and the cadets hope Neumimic can one day be used to help more people than those recovering from a stroke. One possibility is people with muscular-skeletal injuries or those who have difficulty with range of motion.
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