Cooler than a Wii – Rob McDonnell

Mitch is marking a person's base of support under Dr. Ballantyne's guidance.

Usually, first days involve getting to know everyone included in your future endeavor, discovering the lay of the land, and other mundane tasks. And usually, first days DO NOT involve any hands on experience, especially with thousand-dollar equipment. However, for us conducting the SAU Undergraduate Summer Research Institution, that’s just what happened.

After the pleasantries and basics were covered, my peers and I headed over to the somewhat secretive Physical Therapy Department Laboratory tucked in the basement of Hayes Hall to discover quite the unique set up. There before us lay a force plate inlaid in a ten-foot-long track, all encircled by four MoCap cameras. As Dr. Ballantyne, the head of the PT side of the research, later told us, we weren’t going to use the MoCap cameras in our study, yet the expanse of equipment needed simply to study balance seemed rather impressive. After all, balance is something us humans usually take for granted.

Kate is working hard to lean in a way that brings the cursor on the screen within the target.

Much to my further surprise, rather than simply being introduced to the equipment, Dr. Ballantyne fired up the computer and even allowed us to test out the force plate. Loving technology, whether or not I understand it, I quickly volunteered to be the force plate’s first guinea pig. To elucidate the specificity of the equipment, each time a new person steps onto the force plate, the program calibrates his/her base of support (BoS), or how far one’s weight is able to deviate outside of one’s center of pressure (CoP), which is usually in the feet (unless you like to stand on your hands).

Rob is making fun of Mitch's balance strategy 🙂

After that was finished, on a screen centered before me, the parameters of my BoS were fashioned into an octagon, inside of which there was a white cursor indicating the location of my CoP in relation to the BoS parameters. (Now before I continue, I must say that I like to play sports and am somewhat of a video game junky, simply because I enjoy any challenge/competition combined with hand-eye coordination.) Then much to my enjoyment, multiple targets started appearing inside the octagon, and I knew my goal was to move the cursor to those targets via changing where the CoP of my balance was, either shifting my weight onto my toes or onto my heals, pushing more weight through my right foot or through my left. The challenge was exhilarating, slightly awkward at first, but fun nonetheless.

After my session, Dr. Ballantyne pulled up all the data from where my CoP had deviated when statically standing, as well as the paths my CoP had taken in getting to the targets. I wasn’t perfect, but at least I wasn’t a fall risk.

The computer shows you the path you took trying to hit your targets.

I couldn’t help but think about who our subjects were going to be, and empathize with any elderly that might try to meet the challenge, especially when other factors, like counting from an arbitrary number in decrements of 7, would be included. After all, I grew up in the age of Nintendo and other video games, and am use to such a challenge after many, MANY hours of video game practice.

From then on, I knew I’d enjoy our research, much more than I had originally (and skeptically) considered it, as yet another resume-building opportunity in my undergraduate years. For me, the force plate could have provided endless hours of entertainment, no matter how “un-video-game-like” it was intended to be, because in my opinion it was way coolerthan a Wii.

Teresa is at the helm, setting the software to collect the next person's data.

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