The Duke of Sussex learnt about the Communication and Computing Research Centre’s latest Virtual Reality (VR) research during a visit to Sheffield Hallam University last week.
Prince Harry was given a demonstration of a system supporting the rehabilitation of amputees by Impact VR Research Lab lead researcher Ivan Phelan (recipient of Grow MedTech support) and Maurice Lee, a prosthetics user who has been helping to refine the system and give feedback on it.
The VR prosthetics training system is designed to help prepare people who have been prescribed an upper limb prosthetic, which users must learn how control by squeezing the muscles in their arm.
While existing training systems are basic and repetitive, the game-based system being developed by Ivan’s team is designed to be a more intuitive and enjoyable experience for users.
The Impact VR Research Lab is working with existing prosthetics users and clinical teams at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals and Manchester University Hospitals to test the system, with clinical input from the Mobility and Specialised Rehabilitation Centre (M&SRC), led by Dr Ramesh Munjal, consultant in Rehabilitation and prosthetics.
On the future of the technology, Ivan said:
We plan to make the training system available at home so that users can practice during the weeks before they receive their prosthetic
Prince Harry asked Maurice Lee, who suffered severe burns and lost both hands in a car accident over 20 years ago, about his injury and experiences. Maurice told the Prince that it would have made things easier for him if the system had been available when he first got his injury.
Industrial designer Nick Dulake (part of Sheffield Hallam’s Art & Design Research Centre’s Design Futures and Lab4Living) is working with the team to develop a weighted sleeve which mimics the weight of the prosthetic, providing a more realistic experience.
The VR Prosthetics project is funded through the UK’s NIHR Invention for Innovation (i4i) award scheme and has interest from industrial partners.
Ivan also talked about ongoing VR research with paediatric rehabilitation with the Prince, who had visited the Children’s Hospital earlier in the day. Ivan and his team are currently working on a collaborative project with Sheffield Children’s Hospital researching the ways in which VR might help children through rehab for limb injuries. The work was featured on the BBC earlier this year.
Ivan explained why the project is proving a success with patients and clinicians:
For young patients, rehab exercises are seen as a chore but if it’s in a game they do it automatically as fun. Physiotherapists at the Children’s Hospital are reporting that the patients using the system are sustaining the effort and improving their level of movement.
Cover photo provided by the Sheffield Hallam University Press Office.