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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: Journal of Assistive Technologies, Volume 8, Issue 3
This issue contains a fascinating group of papers linked to the The Interactive Technologies and Games Conference (ITAG) conference, held each year in Nottingham. ITAG is now in its seventh year.
Held annually at Nottingham Trent University in partnership with GameCity, the conference aims to showcase and disseminate research outcomes and usable, accessible and effective open-source, freely available games and interactive resources, for educational and clinical applications. The cost of the conference is kept low to encourage attendance not only by academics, but also teachers, trainers, clinicians, members of the public, games and education companies with an interest in these topics. Cross-fertilisation of ideas is encouraged at the event, creating new opportunities and ideas for future projects and partnerships.
The papers from ITAG 2013 in this issue of JAT come from across the UK and from Israel. We begin with a paper from Nottingham, the home of ITAG. Penny Standen and Joseph Hedgecock from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences and Charlotte Beer from the Institute of Mental Health, all at the University of Nottingham, are joined by David Brown from the School of Science and Technology at Nottingham Trent University and David Stewart, Headteacher of Oak Field School and Sports College, in their evaluation of the role of a humanoid robot. Robotics has been a growing topic in JAT and we have several more papers on this developing topic under review. In this case, the focus is on the potential of robots of this nature for supporting learning by children with profound and multiple disabilities. Working with a special school, the team set up five case studies where interactions with a humanoid robot were observed and recorded. Results were encouraging, and the team make the case for further development in this fast-moving area.
The context for our second of four peer-reviewed papers in this special issue is the use of multi-player online video games by people who have had brain injuries. The paper is contributed by Jason Colman, Jim Briggs and Alice Good (School of Computing) and Louise Turner (School of Health and Social Sciences), all at the University of Portsmouth. The team aimed to investigate whether these types of video games might provide some therapeutic benefit, of a measurable kind, for the target group. Working with a small number of participants, the group alternated intervention and non-intervention weeks, with cognitive tests taken at the start and end of every week. The team are aware of the tentative nature of this research and that this is an area not very much researched to date. Although they did not find convincing evidence for their hypothesis at this juncture, they make a strong case for more attention to be paid to the possibilities of video games for this group. This is particularly apposite in view of the rising incidence of brain injury, especially following survival after stroke.
The subject of our next paper is the use of a particular type of camera, together with virtual reality (VR), for hand rehabilitation. The team have investigated the potential of newly developed depth-sensing cameras that enable much closer tracking of hand and fingers than has previously been possible. Darryl Charles, Computer Science Research Institute, worked on the project with colleagues Katy Pedlow and Suzanne McDonough from the Centre for Health and Rehabilitation Technologies, all from the University of Ulster. The team also involved Ka Shek and Therese Charles from Silverfish Studios, Coleraine, Northern Ireland. The team aimed to complete an initial evaluation by professional clinicians of the use of these cameras within VR simulations. The clinicians involved were physiotherapists and occupational therapists, and results were broadly positive. Much was learned about the design of interactive VR software using the capabilities of these cameras, which are relatively low cost and yet technically far superior to those previously available. The researchers continue to develop resources in this area and to learn from their user participants.
Our final paper comes from an international group: Orly Lahav and Hadas Gedalevitz from the School of Education at Tel Aviv University, Israel, working with Steven Battersby, David Brown, Lindsay Evett and Patrick Merritt, all from the School of Science and Technology at Nottingham Trent University. The team explored the use of Nintendo Wii hand-held Wiimote technology to support people who are blind as they explore spaces. The research was undertaken within virtual environments, with the Wiimote enabling users to interact with the virtual environment and to simulate walking through the space. Feedback was auditory and haptic, and the team investigated users’ ability to construct a cognitive map of the space as well as their effectiveness in performing orientation tasks. The team complete their paper by explaining in some detail the next research stages needed in order to further investigate the potential that this fames-based technology might hold for people who are blind.
ITAG 2014 (www.itag.gamecity.org) takes place on 16 and 17 October 2014, and is organised by Nottingham Trent University. This year's conference will cover a wide range of games-related activities across education, health and disability, and will be held in the Council House, in the centre of Nottingham.