While his classmates took a welcome break from the books, University of South Australia engineering student Andrew McMillian spent a recent summer holiday investigating the potential of video games to rehabilitate children with cerebral palsy.
Andrew received an eResearch SA Summer Scholarship in 2010-11, which opened the door to using advanced information and communication technologies to solve research questions.
Andrew was offered a selection of projects which incorporated eResearch activities, such as collaboration, data management and sharing, high performance computing, or visualisation and haptics. He was intrigued by a Flinders University project, which harnessed data visualisation to measure video game interaction data.
“The project, which is ongoing, aims to provide custom-made video games for children with cerebral palsy to use at home over extended periods of time,” Andrew explains. “The player’s interactions with a game are logged and this data can be used to track the rehabilitation of their motor skills.
“My role was working on a new way to collect data, using 3D visualisation to capture the player’s experience. I would not have had the opportunity to develop skills in visualisation without this scholarship – it opened up a whole new area.”
eResearch SA’s advanced visualisation and haptics facilities are used by researchers to tactically manipulate data to build their understanding of the structure of objects, find patterns in complex data sets or, like Andrew, to visualise abstract concepts.
The data collected during the Flinders University project included the player’s screen location in the game, the position of the joystick, the duration and intensity of vibration feedback and how this relates to the game played.
“For each point of data logged from the game, a time-stamp, joystick position and controller vibration were recorded, and then read in by my program,” Andrew explains. “The program proceeded to build the visualisation using time-stamp and joystick position for the position of each point of data, and colour to record vibration for each point of data.
“By using 3D visualisation, we could represent the data provided and identify if there was any joystick bias over time, to see if the subject’s motor skills are more advanced in one side of their body.”
Andrew’s research supervisor at Flinders University was Dr Brett Wilkinson. Brett has also supervised another eResearch SA scholarship student in a project which utilised haptic devices for epidural simulation.
“The eResearch SA scholarship provides the research community with the opportunity to access new techniques,” Brett says. “The main project was developing video games for rehabilitation, but eResearch SA facilitated the connection with Andrew, who contributed important skills in visualisation to our project.”