Hope through tech on World Cerebral Palsy Day

MDRI member David Hobbs with Alexander Arthur at Flinders' Tonsley facility this week
MDRI member David Hobbs with Alexander Arthur at Flinders’ Tonsley facility this week
With 17 million people across the globe living with cerebral palsy (CP), Flinders University researcher David Hobbs is working hard to bring new hope to the children and their families that are affected by this permanent condition.

A Lecturer and Rehabilitation Engineer, David Hobbs has led the design, development and testing of a purpose-built, interactive computer gaming system to improve how children with CP use their hands.

On World Cerebral Palsy Day this week, Mr Hobbs demonstrated how the system works with Alexander Arthur and his father Tim at Flinders University’s new Tonsley facility.

The award-winning accessible gaming system, known as ‘OrbIT’ features a novel controller nick-named ‘Orby’, together with 15 custom-built computer games and is designed to encourage hand use and movement of the controller but not focus on the use of buttons.

Alexander’s participation during the development phase was integral to the world-first study led by Mr Hobbs, in which families were invited to trial ‘Orby’, to explore the benefits of using ‘haptic’ (virtual reality that you can feel) gaming to improve tactile sensory function.

Children with CP find it difficult, often impossible, to grip a video game controller and often don’t have the dexterity to push the buttons to navigate the games.

In helping to solve that problem, Mr Hobbs has been bringing some extra fun into the lives of children with CP.

“‘Orby’ was developed around some very specific design considerations. We wanted to create a tool for everybody to be able to engage in gaming, but also see if we can bring about a change in behaviour, using the controller as a rehabilitation tool, but in a fun, engaging way,” said Mr Hobbs.

“What we found was not only was Orby incredibly easy to use for every participant, but it was also changing the way these children participated and interacted with their siblings and families. Parents reported greater socialisation amongst their children and they also became competitive, trying to beat each other’s score.”

One teenager with Cerebral Palsy who tested the games before Mr Hobbs’ trial started said she had the best two weeks of her life playing the games.

Of the Institute, Alexander said, “I think these people are very visionary – looking forward rather than backward”.

“Being of the younger demographic, under 20, technology really excites me because it is such a part of my everyday life so having more of this type of technology, especially for people with disabilities, would definitely make people’s lives easier”, said Alexander.

The project was a multi-disciplinary collaborative effort between Flinders University, the University of South Australia, and the Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

The study was made possible through funding from the Women’s and Children’s Hospital Foundation (https://www.wchfoundation.org.au/) and the Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation (www.crf.org.au).

One of the priority areas of Flinders University’s Medical Device Research Institute (www.flinders.edu.au/mdri) is to work with end users to design and develop innovative technologies to meet the needs of people with a disability and to make them commercially accessible.

Mr Hobbs and his team are currently looking at new research opportunities with other populations to see if the system can benefit and improve rehabilitation outcomes for people recovering from stroke and those with Parkinson’s disease. The system was recently exhibited in England and Singapore generating significant interest.

For more information on World CP Day, please go to https://worldcpday.org/

More information on Flinders University’s Medical Device Research Institute is available here: http://www.flinders.edu.au/mdri

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