Wii Fit now helping doctors balance patients

Wii Balance Board

Wii Fit Balance Board

It might seem gimmicky and there’s more than a few people still waiting for the novelty to wear off, but Nintendo’s motion-sensing Wii has proven to be surprisingly useful in fields far removed from loungeroom gaming.

There was the revelation that the Wii-mote has been considered accurate enough to control bomb disposal robots, which was pretty impressive (and sounds like a brilliant idea for a game – if you could get the control scheme right).

Now, it’s the Wii Fit balance board’s time to shine, with Melbournian Ross Clark introducing the peripheral to the medical fraternity.

His intention was to find out whether or not the balance board, used in-game to simulate snowboarding, tight-rope walking and hula-hooping, could be used to help rehabilitate stroke patients.

Wii Fit - HulaHoop

Hula-hooping in Wii Fit

The theory was sound – as anyone who’s used Wii Fit will tell you, the board can measure the centre of pressure of a person’s foot, telling you how well balanced you are (and how well you can stand perfectly still). This is similar technology to the stuff they use in physiotherapy – with one major difference: the price.

The lab-grade platforms would set the average clinic back nearly $20,000 – more than many can afford. The Wii Fit board is priced much closer to $100, and you get a free game!

So. Clark and his University of Melbourne colleagues got out their screwdrivers and took the balance board to pieces, to assess how well the technology worked. Taking a look at the accelerometers and strain gauges, they checked out the raw data.

Wii Fit - Yoga

Yoga in Wii Fit

Clark comments:

“We found the data to be excellent. I was shocked given the price: it was an extremely impressive strain gauge set-up.”

…and now, Clark’s theory was proven right – the board’s data is clinically comparable to the much more expensive force platform. His team’s findings have been published in the journal Gait and Posture, and Clark reports that the low price, easy availability and portability of the Wii balance board means that it is – even now – being used to assess rehabilitation in patients suffering from balance issues.

New Scientist, thanks to Mez for the headsup!

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