Oct. 30 - Scientists at the Vienna University of Technology have created a virtual reality system designed to help train recent amputees to use their prosthetic limbs. The 3D optical motion capture system was devised in collaboration with prosthetic limb manufacturer Otto Bock and is already garnering praise from amputees who've tried it. Jim Drury reports.
UPSOT: CREAKING OF ROBOTIC HAND STORY: Surgeons removed Milorad Marinkovic's arm six months ago, a decade after a road accident left him unable to use it. He's now learning to use a prosthetic replacement, helped by this virtual reality system designed by scientists at Vienna's University of Technology. UPSOT: 'BEEP BEEP' (PROSTHESIS BEING CALIBRATED) Myosensors fitted to the user's arm convert nerve-ending signals into electric commands and generate data to operate a 3D virtual limb. The virtual arm's movement is shown in the user's head-mounted display, according to team leader Hannes Kaufmann. SOUNDBITE (English) HEAD OF VIENNA UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY VIRTUALITY REALITY GROUP, HANNES KAUFMANN, SAYING: "In the head-mounted display he can see the virtual environment, the virtual world. And in this virtual environment various balls can be seen and task of the user is to grasp the balls. He must grasp the balls with different forces." UPSOT: CREAKING OF ROBOTIC HAND SOUNDBITE (English) HEAD OF VIENNA UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY VIRTUALITY REALITY GROUP, HANNES KAUFMANN, SAYING: ".....and in our environment different colours of balls signal when object with different grip force is needed.....we are using an optical tracking system which can very precisely determine the position of the arm in space." Kaufmann believes the device will vastly improve the ability of patients to train and strengthen their muscle signals. SOUNDBITE (English) HEAD OF VIENNA UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY VIRTUALITY REALITY GROUP, HANNES KAUFMANN, SAYING: "Usually patients cannot control these prosthesis. And so, they have to learn to send the appropriate signals for the prothesis, and in our system patients get sensors - myosensors - on their arm, and with these myosensors the muscle signals are captured and they can control a prothesis. In our case, a virtual prothesis." So what does Milorad Marinkovic make of the optical motion capture system? SOUNDBITE (German) AMPUTEE, MILORAD MARINKOVIC, SAYING: "Unfortunately, I could not practice with this system when my arm was amputated. I would have really benefited from that system, but I could only practise with an older two-signal myometer. But this new one makes it much easier for recent amputees to practice grabbing, and to make proper use of what they learned once their prothesis is ready for their use." Vienna's General Hospital is about to conduct its own tests with the device, created in collaboration with prosthetics manufacturer Otto Bock. Its developers hope it will soon be available to amputees world-wide.