The SHIVA Project
The goal of this project was to produce virtual sculpting tools for disabled children and rehabilitation patients, using 3D printing to produce real-world objects. The above photograph shows some of the outputs, 3D printed objects designed by children with physical disabilities.
The SHIVA project title stands for Sculpture for Health-care: Interaction and Virtual Art in 3D. The project was funded by Interreg IVA "2 Seas" Cross-border Cooperation Program in 2010-2013. The consortium partners were:
- Lead: University of Lille (France)
- Bournemouth University (BU, UK)
- Victoria Education Centre (VEC, UK)
- HOPALE Foundation (France).
Objectives and Rationale
It is well known that artistic activities can significantly help people to recover both physically and mentally after a wide range of traumas, as well as helping adults and children with physical disabilities to express themselves. However, using clay or any other sculpting material is non-trivial in a medical environment and especially for disabled individuals with little or no limb control, as well as a great many other practical issues such as hygiene, dust, equipment, storage, and so on. In the SHIVA project, we proposed to use ICT-based technologies to extend access to such artistic tools, within a fully protected environment, for particularly vulnerable population groups: people in rehabilitation (Lille and HOPALE) and children with various types of disabilities (BU and VEC).
From a clinical point of view, sculpting activities (such as pottery, object assembly, material removal) have a broad range of advantages:
As a motor rehabilitation tool, sculpture (mainly pottery) allows specific mobilisation of the joints, which is easily transferable to more domestic tasks, such as cooking. Making sculptures is a good way to improve dexterity and the grasping function, as well as improving postural balance and developing the movement of joints. For motor rehabilitation, virtual reality allows the filtering of inaccurate movement, or the ability to suppress or reduce the effects of the physical laws such as gravity or the action-reaction principle. This helps the victims of a stroke to recover their bimanual ability, permitting them to perform tasks requiring both hands. This would help to prevent the patient being placed in situation which could either put them at risk or give them the impression of failure.
As a cognitive rehabilitation tool, creating a sculpture by assembling a series of objects is an effective way to work and requires the skills of reading the assembly plan, sorting objects into the correct order, determining the order of their assembly, scheduling tasks, and issuing instructions. The cognitive processes when sculpting in a virtual reality environment are the same as when sculpting in reality. Furthermore, the virtual reality environment allows the selection of different levels of difficulty, while maintaining the possibility of having standardised protocols. Virtual reality is well suited for the executive functions of rehabilitation and even, for example, the rehabilitation of individuals suffering from hemineglect, where the patient is unaware of one side of the space around them.
A virtual tool is easier to implement in a medical setting because it does not require a dedicated space and there are no hygiene concerns raised because none of the dust or mess associated with actual sculpture is created. It also presents the possibility of offering activities to adult patients which are more in keeping with their age – currently toys such as Meccano or other model construction kits are used for this purpose and these activities are often considered as childish and boring by patients. Further, a digital solution presents the possibility of offering a wider range of activities, which are much more engaging for the patient. It is well established that patient motivation is a key factor in successful rehabilitation. In free-hand applications, actions which develop the movement of the arm joints, postural balance, and coordination of movement are also possible.
Artistic Expression for Disabled Children
Young people with disabilities may have a very different experience of the physical world to those without. This experience may be influenced by their range of movement, coarse or fine motor control, or having spent their life in a wheelchair. Due to these physical difficulties, they may not have had the opportunity to explore the physical properties of different objects and materials in a conventional sense. This impacts their comprehension and understanding of real-world objects and especially factors such as spatial awareness and action-consequence sequences. New technologies are helping to provide ways in which young people who have disabilities can have these experiences in a virtual sense. Thus, the aim of the SHIVA project was to enable such young people to learn about manipulating objects by providing a few basic virtual sculpting tools and then producing the objects physically with 3D printing technologies.
The primary direct use-case for the SHIVA project outcomes for disabled children was for artistic creativity, which have different technical requirements to rehabilitation – especially in not requiring subject analysis data to be stored and interpreted. There are a great many wide-ranging benefits for creative activities, including: the development of visual and spatial awareness; learning that making mistakes can be important on the path to success; increased self-confidence and self-worth. Creativity greatly helps imagination and problem-solving and there is evidence to suggest it can help boost academic performance in other subjects. Self-expression, which is difficult for many able-bodied children, can be an especially difficult challenge for those with disabilities and creative activities can greatly help with communication and emotional development. One of the objectives of the SHIVA project was therefore to provide access to such benefits for children who would otherwise struggle to participate in such tasks.
Virtual Sculpting and 3D Printing
The project was designed to produce a small number of software exercises, specifically targeting the rehabilitation users at HOPALE and the disabled children at VEC, to allow them to produce virtual sculptures and then to 3D print the results.
For rehabilitation users, the importance was in encouraging specific movements and measuring user performance to monitor progress, as well as providing an engaging and cognitively challenging activity. For the disabled children, it was important to provide solutions that were configurable and could cater for different input and comprehension levels. The use-case emphasis was on artistic activities, so the measurement aspect was not required in artefacts for VEC.
Some level of user supervision was assumed from the outset, and especially 3D printing is a complex process, so the outputs from the exercises would always need to be passed to a technician for actual physical construction.
To allow interaction with these software exercises by disabled users, appropriate interaction tools and strategies needed to be developed. The difficulty faced by all accessible software developers is that each user has potentially very different interface requirements, even compared to other users with the same disability, and that these requirements can also vary on a day-to-day basis. An interface solution must therefore provide a vast range of flexibility and the ability to store settings for each user.
In order to use a piece of software, the user must be able to interact with it. For most of us this means a keyboard and mouse, or a touch screen for portable devices. The physical limitations of disabled and rehabilitation users typically mean they cannot use a mouse and keyboard for interaction with software. Touch screens are becoming more mainstream and provide more input possibilities (especially ruggedised devices), but other important input modalities are eye-gaze tracking, gesture and varieties of switches. The challenge then is for the interface and software application to be designed in such a way that a user can still construct a virtual sculpture using a single button switch.
Scholarly activities and research results from the projects included conference, journal papers and presentations at national and international events. The primary outputs, however, were the software artefacts which were designed for the students at Victoria Education Centre and the patients at HOPALE Foundation:
Accessible GUI System
Usability and suitability for the users' needs was key to the SHIVA project, so the BU team developed an accessible GUI in close collaboration with VEC, undergoing several cycles of refinement to meet the requirements of VEC's students. This feedback process guided BU and allowed them to produce software that could be tailored to the needs of VEC's individual students, who each have very different input requirements.
The SHIVA GUI system features include: switch-scanning support with adjustable timing parameters, direct progression with multiple switches; mouse or touchscreen control; button debouncing options; key-mapping options with activation on trailing or leading edges; basic eye-gaze support with adjustable dwell time and configurable rest zones; fully configurable GUI layouts which can be saved and loaded from user profile; visual styling in themes for use across multiple profiles; visual adjustment in themes and profiles; configurable graphics for buttons, symbols, text, including sophisticated colour replacement in graphics.
The first prototype software developed by BU in collaboration with VEC and using their accessible GUI was a metamorphosis exercise, specifically for younger or less cognitively able students. Here, the user chooses two objects and can produce an intermediate shape that is blend between the two objects. Primary interaction for this is through a slider and the blended shape is displayed to the user and updated interactively. The user can then then rotate their object and apply a colour to it.
The second software prototype from BU was a 'totem-pole' exercise, which provides a more complex sculpting environment. Here, the user stacks a small number of objects together and then performs simple modelling operations on the stack such as blending, cutting, drilling and twisting.
This was installed at VEC and used by disabled students, providing feedback for the GUI system development and actual 3D printed results.
Lille produced a software prototype for HOPALE which would allow a user to assemble a pre-sliced object using 3D hand-tracking recognition. This also stored user performance information so that the clinicians could analyse the progress of a patient.