Mixing virtual reality with therapy pools could pave the way for new forms of underwater treatment.
We’ve seen virtual reality used as a therapy tool to help people with everything from overcoming their fear of heights to letting disabled relive their passions. Now VR is being used for physical therapy – all while submerged underwater.
One University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) associate professor of computer science, John Quarles, is using the technology in therapy pools to help people suffering with multiple sclerosis (MS).
For people living with MS, staying active and sticking with a rehabilitation program can be tedious. Quarles is no stranger to staying motivated during aquatic rehab, with himself being diagnosed with MS 11 years ago.
With most of his classes focused on game development and virtual reality, he saw it only fitting to create a virtual reality game for people like himself.
Quarles created “Shark Punch,” a game developed to work with a phone powered VR headset in conjunction with a snorkel. As you wade through the pool with a headset and snorkel on, you will see a virtual shark swimming circles around you, trying to attack with a menacing bite. The object of the game is to punch the shark with your fist underwater to repel the attack. If you miss, a sensor wrapped around your body will let you know, just to keep things even more fun and interesting.
Many people with MS overheat when they exercise, making symptoms worse. This is why aquatic therapy in the pool helps patients keep their temperature low and assist with balance. By adding a VR game into the mix, this workout starts to feel less like work and more like a game.
Earlier this year, Quarles applied for a patent for Shark Punch. In the meantime he will test the device on other MS patients so he can improve it. He hopes the game can also be adapted to help people seeking out aquatic therapy to cope with injuries or recovery from surgery.
Quarles hopes more games like “Shark Punch” will be incorporated into underwater treatments to motivate those fighting multiple sclerosis.