The word “phantom” can describe an illusion, but there is no mistaking the results of the Phantom, a force feedback virtual reality device that helps treat youth with Developmental Coordination Disorder.
It was developed in part by professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science Geoffrey Bingham.
“The technology that we use to train these kids is a computer graphics display that is connected to a phantom-omny,” Bingham said. “And that’s a desktop robotic arm, essentially.”
Bingham likens the Phantom to a virtual version of a toy commonly seen in pediatric waiting rooms, one that contains a board with wires and beads.
“The task is like that except you have to do the pushing of the beads using a stylus, like a pen or a pencil,” Bingham said. “So, the idea is you’d be placing it on the wire behind the bead and then pushing the bead along the wire.”
Bingham got the idea of using the Phantom from Andy Hanson, a former chair of the computer sciencedepartment, who introduced him to the device.
Winona Snapp-Childs, a member of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, has worked with Bingham in testing the Phantom.
“It immediately became obvious to us when we were allowed to play with it for the first time that this could be a very nice therapeutic tool given the right circumstances,” Snapp-Childs said.
The Phantom is hooked up to a computer screen that displays the virtual wires and beads. Each move the Phantom makes is seen on the computer screen.
The goal is to keep the bead, controlled by the Phantom, on point with the diagram on the computer screen, which looks like a roller coaster. The test lasts about 10 seconds, but it can be increased in difficulty. The magnetic attraction can be made stronger or weaker, the latter making it more difficult to keep the bead on point.
“The point of the test is that children with developmental coordination disorder would never be able to do this,” Bingham said. “They’d be coming off the wire all the time and then having to find it again, and it would be incredibly frustrating.”
Bingham said 5 to 6 percent of children are affected by the disorder, which is similar to autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
After he began research on the subject, Bingham said he had a revelation.
“When I encountered this, I recognized myself right away, I’m DCD,” he said. “I flunked handwriting all the way through grade school, and I didn’t read my first book until I was in junior high school. It was torture.”
Bingham said studies have linked reading and writing, as children with poor handwriting tend to also have reading issues.
The disorder can also ramify, creating social and emotional problems, though it does respond to therapy and remediation.
“There’s no known cause for it, which makes it hard to diagnose,” Snapp-Childs said.
That may be the next task in addressing the issue of DCD, she said, as diagnosing seems more plausible than curing it.
“Generally these kids are intelligent,” Bingham said. “There’s no known physiological basis for the problem. Their problem is that they’re clumsy.”