It’s appropriate that during Parkinson’s Awareness Month, a team of Rice University seniors will show how augmented reality may help patients with the disease.
Six Rice engineering students have designed an iPhone app to help patients overcome a symptom known as “freezing,” in which the legs temporarily refuse to follow the brain’s command to lift and move forward.
For many of these patients, researchers have found that visual, audio or vibratory cues can help them overcome freezing. The Rice app may be the most elegant and comprehensive way to date to provide those cues, according to the students.
The app takes advantage of new programming tools that allow for the incorporation of augmented reality. In this case, the user can point the phone at the floor or sidewalk and trigger it to place the image of a block, circle or other object where his or her foot should land. That visual cue is often enough to allow patients to initiate their gait.
The app can also provide audio or sensory cues through the phone’s sound and vibration capabilities. It should be adaptable to Android phones as well, according to the students.
The students’ creation is certainly smaller and cheaper than what they referred to as the state of the art for patients, a cane with a laser attachment. Because some patients may also experience tremors in their hands, the team created a lanyard phone case a patient can wear to make the phone easier to manipulate.