An underwater VR game is rehabilitating patients with MS

At the University of Texas at San Antonio, one scientist is combining aquatic physical therapy with virtual reality to help multiple sclerosis patients through an underwater game. Up next, the story of how a pool game called “shark punch” is making a splash.

TRANSCRIPT

At the University of Texas at San Antonio, one scientist is combining aquatic physical therapy with virtual reality to help multiple sclerosis patients through an underwater game.

Up next, the story of how a pool game called Shark Punch is making a splash.

A lot of what I do, I mean, what I'm largely focused on at UTSA is research and virtual reality for rehabilitation.

So, yeah, it kind of did lead into this in some sense because we already had been trying to figure out, 'Well, how can we make better rehabilitation, better visual rehabilitation games for people with various kinds of disabilities?'

We've largely focused on people with multiple sclerosis, largely because that's what I have.

So I'm aware of it and, you know, I'm aware of the problems that people have.

If you get hot, something really common for people with MS is that those all get way, way worse.

So, exercising in a pool is a good way of getting around that, so then you can exercise to, you know, the level of intensity that you want without overheating.

But there weren't any virtual reality games for in the pool.

There weren't any underwater virtual reality games, because basically virtual reality systems don't work in the water.

I thought, 'Well, yeah, I could just take a couple of cellphones that were waterproof and make it work in the water, and punch some sharks because that makes sense.'

It made sense because you're gonna get a bunch of sensory feedback from the water anyway.

And punching sharks is fun.

[ Laughs ]

I mean, I don't have any personal experience with actually punching sharks, but, you know, it's a thing that they tell you to do if a shark attacks you, I guess.

The other nice thing about virtual reality is that you can do things in virtual reality that you would never do in real life because they're too dangerous.

So you can kind of see the -- It's going to make it more exciting, it's going to make it more fun if there's a little bit of, you know -- Your brain knows it's not really dangerous.

But you're still gonna respond when that shark comes around and comes up, and you don't quite see it, and you go, 'Oh!'

You know, that happens.

You see people do it all the time.

It's really funny.

You'll see me do it.

[ Chuckles ] You know?

So the way the game works is you have a head-mounted display on and there's a cellphone that sits in your head-mounted display, which really it's just a cellphone that is mounted to the front of your dive mask.

You wear a little cellphone around your chest, and when the shark bites you, then you'll get a little buzz.

And I wish phones were -- Honestly kind of wish that, like, I could shock myself or something.

[ Laughs ]

'Cause it would be a little bit more like, you know, it wouldn't hurt me, but it would be more realistic.

The shark kind of circles you, and you kind of have to wait.

And then usually you want to kind of track him because he'll come and bite you from behind.

You won't necessarily know it if you don't keep your eye on it.

So, eventually he'll come down and try to -- he'll speed up and try and come and attack you.

And you have to throw a punch, and you can't just throw, like, a little -- ehh -- you can't just throw a little punch.

It has to be a serious punch.

Otherwise the system will not know, recognize that you punched.

But if he does bite you, you'll hear a little kkkrrrsshh!

and your character in the game will like, 'err!'

Right?

It's also filtered to sound like it's underwater.

I'm hoping that, you know, more people get interested in it and, you know, can actually take this thing to where it will actually being used in real physical therapy clinics that have underwater rehabilitation or aquatic rehabilitation capabilities.

I guess I don't have that stress that, what am I doing with my life, because I'm doing something that actually helps people.

[ Laughs ] In the face.