Texas veterans first to test cyber rehab system
DALLAS (AP) — Twenty-five Dallas-area veterans will be the first to try cutting-edge rehabilitation technology designed to transmit sensations of physical touch over the Internet, researchers at the University of Dallas say.
The Austin American-Statesman (http://atxne.ws/1Pio9ft ) reports that the researchers are leading the initial six-month trials, which start next month.
The project seeks to provide enhanced access to physical therapy for disabled veterans who can’t commute to the doctor’s office. It combines recent advances in 3-D cameras, high-speed Internet connections, video game engines and the field of “haptic,” or sense-of-touch, technology, which uses a variety of vibrations, tactile sensors and the application of force to the user to re-create the sensation of touch.
“We’re bringing the sense of touch to telemedicine,” said Dr. Balakrishnan Prabhakaran, computer science professor at UT-Dallas and the project’s principal investigator.
Patients would go to the Dallas Veterans Affairs Medical Center and perform upper-arm exercises with a haptic device, which will transmit the location and force of the patient’s motions over the Internet to an identical device used by a therapist at the UT-Dallas campus, about 20 miles away in Richardson.
The therapist will guide the patients through exercises based on their disabilities.
The research got $2.4 million from the National Science Foundation in 2010 and an additional $300,000 last year from U.S. Ignite, a partnership between the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the foundation.
The UT-Dallas project’s initial trials will measure the technology’s effectiveness in evaluating upper-arm injuries and conditions, but it is not yet ready to be used for treatments, said Dr. Thiru Annaswamy, an associate professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center and physician at the Dallas VA Medical Center who is involved in the project.
And even if the UT-Dallas project is successful, the haptic device’s price tag — $27,000 — and sluggish Internet speeds in many places could impede the technology from being widely adopted.
Prabhakaran said an Internet connection speed of at least 100 megabits per second is ideal to use the technology. That’s more than 8 times faster than the average U.S. Internet speed of 11.9 mbps, according to the tech firm Akamai in a 2015 report.
The UT-Dallas team is currently developing algorithms to allow for slower Internet speeds. Last week, Prabhakaran’s team successfully tested the technology at 50 mbps.