Student Profile: Michelle Annett

CS PhD student works with the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital on incorporating interactive technologies into occupational therapy programs

The Glenrose is the largest tertiary rehabilitation hospital in Canada. This unique medical facility focuses on helping people recover function that may have been lost due to illness or injury, and improve their quality of life through cutting edge technologies and rehabilitation techniques. In addition to providing day-to-day services, the Glenrose also has a research division that is continually striving to find new and better ways to serve their patients.

In the AMMI lab, professors Pierre Boulanger and Walter Bischof use innovative computing science technologies to tackle problems in a variety of domains. Their many partnerships, including the one they have with the Glenrose, is one of the reasons Michelle decided to pursue graduate studies in computing science at the U of A.

"Pierre and Walter are so well connected," says Michelle. "Not only do they know people in other departments, but other universities as well.

"I like being able to collaborate with a lot of different people. Collaborations help you keep an open mind and give you many different perspectives, which is very important when doing interdisciplinary research."

Michelle, still in the first year of her Ph.D., is exploring a variety of technologies (including the Nintendo Wii, virtual reality, e-textiles, and multi-touch tabletops) and the way they can be used to provide patients with more engaging therapy activities.

In the case of the Wii, current games made for this platform – though interesting for the patient – don’t always best serve their needs or that of their therapists. The standard Wii games are not tailored to the specific improvements of someone in therapy, nor do they target the movements therapists hope to work on. This leads to negative feedback for the user – in the form of “losing” the game – even though they may have been making progress.

Michelle’s research looks at designing devices and programs that will enable therapists to refine both the intensity and difficulty of the activities so that they can be better tailored to a patient’s goals. The development and deployment of customized activities for the Wii has been very promising so far and is being investigated further for future integration into rehabilitation programs in Edmonton.

"I’ve always wanted to work on projects that would benefit everyday people," says Michelle. "Last year I went on a tour of the Glenrose facility and met with many of their staff. After the tour, I knew that I had a very unique opportunity before me. The staff at the Glenrose are so caring and dedicated to their patients and I knew this would be the perfect area for me to focus on in my research."

Article and photos, 2010.