military veterans

Military Veterans Get first Chance with Cyber Physical Therapy

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military veterans

Military Veterans Get first Chance with Cyber Physical Therapy

The way in which we communicate and shop has been changed considerably by the internet.

Business has changed, our daily routines have changed, and even the way we learn has changed.

What if we told you that the way we heal is about to change as well?

The idea of physical therapy becoming a ‘telemedicine’ sounds a bit odd, but it is happening, and a new experimental technology system is making it all possible.

In fact, therapy technology has advanced so much that OTAs are studying online and there are even physical therapy robots now.

But we will talk about those another day.

The new cyber physical therapy system strives to connect specialists to the patients that need them, giving them help that they could not otherwise access either due to travel restrictions of a lack of medical care available in their area.

Researchers working out of the University of Texas, or UT, have developed this system which utilizes real-time video, 3D generated worlds, and force-feedback devices to replicate a physical therapy session between the patient and their therapist who could be anywhere in the world.

At the Beyond Today’s Internet Summit in March 2015, the UT team demonstrated the system and showed the world just what it could be capable of.

Higher Connection Speeds Enhance the Possibilities of Physical Therapy Applications

Most U.S. Citizens still have fairly slow internet, which entails connections that range in tens of megabits per second.

Researchers however, and certain communities are able to utilize the assistance of NSF supported GENI and US ignite programs to use gigabit networks which bring speeds much faster than the standard home network.

This is very useful, as 3D cyber physical therapy or tele-rehabilitation is an endeavor that will require almost no lag or latency between action and reaction.

A Ph.D student working on the computer-enabled health technologies, Karthik Venkateraman made the following statement:

“To transfer all of this data requires a bandwidth greater than 100 megabits per second, which we currently can’t do over the Internet, GENI and US Ignite provide the bandwidth and low latency that is required by these kinds of applications.”

A Physical Experience in a Virtual World

Each year, millions of people undergo physical therapy for a multitude of reasons. These reasons could range from strokes, injuries, or other ailments.

The problem, as we mentioned before, is that not everyone has access to a state of the art treatment facility. That being said, not everyone has the opportunity to heal or resume their normal life.

“We’re trying to virtualize a physical therapy session in which a patient and a therapist cannot be present at the same location,” said Venkataraman.

As a rather unexpected use for a gaming peripheral, the system actually uses Microsoft Kinect to create 3D real-time models of both the patient and their doctor.

The models will then be inserted into a shared virtual environment, and the space can actually be customized by the participants. This system is actually much more involved than you would think, as the patient will be able to respond to a haptic arm controlled by the therapist.

The movements utilized in the virtual session are the same as those that one would experience in a real physical therapy session, as was demonstrated in detail at the Summit.

Researchers from UT have indicated that this is only a single example of what someone can do with the high-bandwidth networks that have yet to find their way into consumer homes.

This is also only the beginning of the cyber physical therapy or tele-rehabilitation system. In the future, there will be expansions to the program that will actually allow the therapist to take on sessions with multiple patients.

The new version will ensure privacy in the sense that the patients will not be able to see other patients. Only the therapist will be able to view and monitor multiple patient.

The therapist will also be able to pick one patient and work with him or her on a one-to-one basis.”

Right now, there are immediate plans to deploy the system at the Dallas Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and it will be used to help rehabilitate disabled veterans. The field trials will begin in June, and the project will be collaborated with Thiru Annaswammy, the assistant professor of medicine at UT.

As stated by Venkataraman,

“If the patient and the therapist cannot be in the same location, we still want to be able to give that virtual experience of him or her being together with the therapist in the same room.”

What do you think about cyber physical therapy? Have you tried it? Tell us in the comments below! 🙂

Crystal is a medical assistant who blogs at When she isn’t busy running around with her kids, or giving someone shots, you can find her blogging about medicine, healthcare, education, and tech.

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