In the year since Microsoft launched Kinect for Xbox 360, the controller-free device has been adopted and adapted for a growing number of non-gaming uses, many of them in the healthcare field. For the elderly, a fall is never just a fall. Marilyn Rantz’s 80-year-old mother fell and broke her shoulder, and died within six months.
“Falls lead to functional issues and other health problems, and can be a precursor to mortality," said Rantz, a University of Missouri nursing professor.
But what if technology could help prevent falls, and in some cases even prolong lives?
Rantz and her colleagues at the University of Missouri are researching just that, using Microsoft's Kinect to measure and monitor subtle changes in the gait and movement of older people. Using technology to measure the way people walk more completely and daily, can give healthcare professionals a chance to intervene sooner.
Helping seniors is just one of a growing number of healthcare applications for Kinect.
Doctors are using Kinect to help stroke patients regain movement. Surgeons are using it to access information without leaving the operating room and in the process sacrificing sterility. Healthcare workers are even using it to help with physical therapy and children with developmental disabilities or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
"Honestly, what we know about here at Microsoft is but a tiny fraction of what is actually going on,”said Bill Crounse, a medical doctor and Microsoft's senior director of worldwide health, referring to medical uses of Kinect.
Keen on encouraging the fast-growing wealth of nongaming applications that have sprung up for Kinect, Microsoft released an academic and enthusiast software development kit for non-commercial projects in June and will release a similar kit next year for commercial uses.
Thus, the genesis of the so-called “Kinect Effect”–a term coined in the hallways and conference rooms of Microsoft to describe the device's increasingly widespread appeal and diversity of uses.
Tiger PlaceTiger Place built by Americare, Inc., in cooperation with the Sinclair School of Nursing at the University of Missouri, is the first facility of its kind. It provides seniors with a place to live independently, but was also built with the intent to provide an environment for interdisciplinary research to study aging and eldercare technology.
Several apartments in Tiger Place have a Kinect mounted near the ceiling in the living room, "With Kinect, we can gather–walking speed, stride length, step time, and we can see detailed trends over time to determine subtle changes and determine very early whether there is functional decline and fall risk," Skubic said.
The Kinect sensors were specially adapted for Tiger Place by Erik Stone, an electrical and computer engineering Ph.D. student at the university.
"Now, for $150, you can get a 3-D picture of the world. It's really rich, and it definitely moves things forward a lot more quickly than we were moving before," Stone said. "Based on the results we see, I think it's something we'll keep using.”
Using Kinect and other kinds of sensors to identify functional decline can mean not only improving the quality of life of older adults, but may even extend their lives.
Royal Berkshire HospitalAt the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, England, stroke patients are using Kinect for Xbox 360 as part of their rehabilitation. One patient who didn't have much arm movement played Kinectimals, a game in which wild cats respond to being petted.
"The patient thought it was marvelous and we could actually see an improvement occurring, rather than the normal stretching and pulling a physiotherapist would do to the patient," said Malcolm Sperrin, director of medical physics at the hospital.
Another patient had problems with standing and fullbody movement.
"We had him bowling," Sperrin said. "He was able to work on coordination between the twisting of his body and the movement of his hands, plus his eyes had to look at the screen rather than where his hands are.
“It's worked extremely well," Sperrin said. "One of the reasons we like the way it has developed, first of all it works for us off the shelf with no modifications at all, but it's also good fun so people can take it home and continue their work with family and friends and of course children–everyone can help with this self-directed improvement.”
Microsoft's Crounse said the so-called Kinect Effect in the device's first year on the market is but a glimmer of what's to come, especially when it comes to healthcare. As Microsoft continues to deepen Kinect's technology, partners, researchers and even businesses will continue to find ways to adapt it for a veritable universe of healthcare-related uses.
"This article, adapted from the original, appeared on the Microsoft News Center: http://www.microsoft.com/news”