UNC student channels power of Wii for physical therapy


Junior Stephanie Zolayvar of Burlington, NC presents a poster on her research of gesture recognition at Monday’s Annual Celebration of Undergraduate Research. One of the main aims of her research is to find a way to improve physical therapy for children with motor impairments. She used a Nintendo Wiimote to recognize the gestures involved in physical therapy turn therapy sessions into a game for the kids.

A game system most associate with couch potatoes and killing time could soon be the latest physical therapy tool on the market.

And it’s all courtesy of one University student.

Stephanie Zolayvar, a junior computer science major who presented her work Monday at the Celebration of Undergraduate Research, designed a program for the Wii game system that recognizes specific movements.

The program, her faculty adviser said, would make the daily rigor of physical therapy more enjoyable.

“In physical therapy, kids are asked to make movements that are difficult and painful,” said computer science professor Gary Bishop, Zolayvar’s adviser.

“I thought it would be cool if we could somehow reward these kids for making the movements.”

Those rewards might include blowing up a zombie on a TV screen or moving along a racetrack, he said.

“I presented a problem, and Stephanie worked on coming up with a solution,” he said.

Zolayvar worked with a Wii remote, or Wiimote, programing it to recognize 12 different movements. She said her program ranges in accuracy from 78 to 95 percent in differentiating between intentional gestures and random fidgets.

But it wasn’t as accurate in telling the difference between the specific gestures, a feature Zolayvar is currently working to fine-tune.

“It would be awesome to actually replace the Wiimote with the (XBox) Kinect or just a webcam so the kid doesn’t have to hold onto the Wiimote,” she said, “and so you have more absolute control over what you see, whereas with the Wiimote everything’s relative and it’s really hard to get exact results.”

Zolayvar said while she ultimately wants to market her product, she doesn’t expect to make a lot of money initially given a low demand for such products.

The project is funded by a stipend from Bishop and a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship.

Zolayvar said her interest in computer science was sparked by a class she took in high school, as well as by Bishop, whom she describes as an enthusiastic adviser.

“What I love about computer science is that you can make the computer do whatever you want. There’s not really any limits or rules about what you can make it do.”

Bishop wasn’t the only one impressed by Zolayvar’s potential.

“I think it’s a really good idea, and it looks like she has some really good preliminary results, so she needs to keep working on it,” said Katarina Haley, an allied health sciences professor who attended the symposium.

“Her presentation is really practical. It was easy to get why she did what she did immediately. She strikes me as very knowledgeable.”

Contact the University Editor at university@dailytarheel.com.

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