Using Virtual Reality for physical rehabilitation

Example of VR in use for physical rehab
Project “Star Catcher” in use

by Edward Kang

After suffering a traumatic injury that required reconstructive surgery and rehabilitation, Aviv Elor, a UC Santa Cruz undergraduate studying robotics engineering, was inspired to explore the potential healthcare applications of Virtual Reality (VR). Under the guidance of UCSC engineering professors and CITRIS PIs Sri Kurniawan and Mircea Teodorescu, Elor started developing VR games that provide an interactive, effective, and affordable alternative to traditional treatments for pain and rehabilitation.

For the 20 percent of the world’s population that is often treated with opioids due to chronic pain, VR also offers a non-addictive, non-pharmaceutical alternative. “The power of [VR] immersion has been found to be so significant,” says Elor, “that it can relieve pain on the level of morphine for burn victims.”

Working with local disability experts, Elor and his team used Constraint Induced Movement Therapy (CIMT) techniques to design a game called “Project Star Catcher,” and Mirror Visual Feedback Therapy (MVFT) to design “Project Butterfly.” As the names suggest, the games take patients through immersive scenes, and, supported by wearable robotics and biometric sensing, they elicit a range of motions in the patient to aid rehabilitation. Initial results comparing this VR alternative with traditional CIMT therapies showed a 40 percent increase in compliance for stroke victims.

“The future of VR therapy is one that adapts to you every day, determines the perfect level of assistance, and generates the right environment to motivate you,” says Elor. This summer, the team demo-ed their VR programs at SEMICON West, the preeminent trade show for semiconductor equipment sellers held each year in San Francisco.

The team operates out of the ASSIST Lab (Assistive Sociotechnical Solutions for Individuals with Special needs using Technology) at the Jack Baskin School of Engineering at UC Santa Cruz, with efforts supported in part by CITRIS and the Banatao Institute.

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The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute drive interdisciplinary innovation for social good with faculty researchers and students from four University of California campuses – Berkeley, Davis, Merced, and Santa Cruz – along with public and private partners. Find out more at