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New technology helps children with disabilities walk
Dean Kopfensteiner walks slowly and deliberately across a bed of red and orange leaves. Wherever he steps, the leaves scatter to reveal a robot arm, then a leg and finally a whole transformer.
Dean, 6, has cerebral palsy and in therapy uses a new technology called The Cube to help him walk.
He demonstrated his abilities Wednesday in the new Building Trades of Alberta Courage Centre, which opened last month at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital.
The Cube, made by Canadian company GestureTek, is comprised of a computer and a projector that sit inside a big black box and shine images onto the floor, said Darrell Goertzen, a technology service leader at the Glenrose.
"The motion sensors detect movement near the surface and that causes the different interaction effects," he said.
Children with debilitating conditions use the device by walking on the projected image and watching their steps change the picture. In some games, smoke billows or water ripples with each step, revealing a secret image underneath or creating an exciting visual.
"We were looking at innovative uses of technology, and one of the things the therapists asked for was a way to make therapy more engaging," Goertzen said.
That certainly rings true for both Dean and his physical therapist, Tracy Sullivan. Asked what the device is like for him, Dean summed it up in one word.
"Great!" he said.
Sullivan agreed, saying treatment sessions can go longer because kids stay engaged.
"Just the motivation of it is great. He can perform an action and actually see a change in what the computer displays," she said.
"The quality of his walking, as well as his walking endurance, has improved," Sullivan said of Dean's progress as a result of the device.
Sullivan said more than 70 games are included in The Cube, and she creates different playlists for Dean each time they use the tool, so it's new for him every time.
Dean's father, Barry Kopfensteiner, said the tool has helped his son.
"He's happy to come here to do it; he looks forward to going to his therapy because of it," he said.
Later, Dean played virtual hockey on The Cube, one of his favourite games. Asked how he felt, he smiled wide and said, "Exhausted!"