Professor Develops Virtual Reality Game to Combat Multiple Sclerosis
Virtual Reality Gaming as a Therapy
John Quarles is an associate professor of computer science at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). He recently created a new VR method that’s used for aquatic physical therapy, called “Shark Punch”. The experience was created with normal items such as dive masks and cell phones and is actually not just entertaining, but provides real therapy as well.
Quarles has multiple sclerosis, so there’s passion behind this project. He said, “I’d been considering the idea of an aquatic game for a while. In rehabilitation, there aren’t really any virtual reality games you can play in the pool.”
It’s common amongst people with multiple sclerosis to feel overheated as they exercise which in turn makes the symptoms even worse. In order to keep your temperature down and balance, people with multiple sclerosis tend to like to exercise in the pool.
Over the last year, Quarles has been creating and testing “Shark Punch”. The game involves putting a waterproof cell phone on the user’s chest and a second cell phone is connected to a dive mask that enables the user to immersive themselves in an underwater virtual reality.
The goal for people playing “Shark Punch” is to avoid and push away a virtual great white shark by punching its nose. The cell phone that’s connected to the users’ chest, knows when a punch is thrown. It then makes a chomping noise and there’s a bit of a buzz if the shark gets a bite.
Quarles wanted the experience to feel as real as it could as the user views their cell phone screen through their VR headset, the image portrays the experience of seeing through a dive mask that splits the screen. When the user punches the shark, a fist flies across the screen.
Quarles said, “Virtual reality has existed for some time in physical therapy. Aquatic therapy has been a part of treatment for MS for a long time as well, but no one had merged the two yet.”
Earlier in 2016, Quarles applied to obtain a patent for his game, Shark Punch. Currently he’s testing the device with MS patients to see if and how it can continue to be improved. He’s hoping that Shark Punch can help people that want to try aquatic therapy for other types of injuries as well.
He said, “The idea is to think outside of the box when it comes to virtual reality gaming. Games can have a positive effect on people’s lives, and that’s what we’re striving for.”