Researchers level playing field for kids with disabilities

Created: December 26, 2019 11:37 AM

Darren Kreps enjoys playing sports with his younger brother, Bryan.

It's especially fun when the boys are on a level playing field.


That's the idea behind iGYM, an augmented reality system developed at the University of Michigan that allows people with mobility disabilities and their non-disabled peers to play and exercise together.

"We learn a little bit about the project each time that we've come, so it'll be neat to see where it goes," said father Erik Kreps, who brought 10-year-old Darren and 9-year-old Bryan to Ann Arbor on a recent Sunday to use the iGYM system.

Bryan, who has a neuromuscular disorder, uses both a wheelchair and a walker to help him get around.

Both items are welcome on the iGYM court, which is projected onto the floor and is capable of hosting a number of games, including one that resembles a combination of soccer and air hockey. When players enter the playing field, a circle appears around them. The circle can be expanded to strike virtual targets, such as a ball that players try to guide into their opponent's goal.

While Darren was able to shuffle around the court on his feet, kicking to expand his circle and strike the virtual ball, Bryan pressed a kick-button to widen the ring surrounding his wheelchair.

The technology is a one-of-a-kind, said iGYM creator Roland Graf, a professor at the University of Michigan Stamps School of Art & Design and a media artist, designer and inventor.

"We have done pretty extensive research on this. Currently, there is nothing else like iGYM as most other accessible gaming technologies either limit it to small screens or are developed for people with cognitive disabilities," Graf said.

iGYM exists only as a research prototype, and Graf and his team are looking for partners to help bring their project to the market.

"Our vision with the system is to make it as simple and affordable as possible, so it can be installed and switched on like any video projector or light fixture in a school gym or community center," Graf said.

(Copyright 2019 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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