New Aquatic VR Game Injects Fun, Innovation Into Physical Therapy

Dr. John Quarles, associate professor of computer science, has created the game to help kids with various physical conditions.

Reprinted from Kens5 News

A new aquatic virtual reality game developed by a UTSA associate professor is being tested out at a local children’s rehabilitation center.

John Quarles, an associate professor of computer science at UTSA, created “Lily Pad Jump” for kids. He’s partnered with the Children’s Rehabilitation Institute of Teleton-USA (CRIT) to bring the game to patients. 

The goal of the game is to catch flies. Once the child straps on the waterproof headset, they will see virtual bugs in the air, bugs they are encouraged to jump in order to catch. Kids with various physical conditions, including cerebral palsy, benefit from the game.

“We thought this is so perfect for kids,” Quarles said. “Most of these kids we're targeting this for, they can't jump safely when they're on land. But when they're in the water, it supports them.”

“It helps with coordination, motor planning, their ability to see what happens if I jump a little too far, their ability to correct themselves,” added Maria Jose Guerrra, a CRIT physical therapist.

Lily Pad Jump is a more kid-friendly version of Quarles’ first aquatic VR game, called “Shark Punch.” That activity was made for adults with multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. 

Quarles, himself someone who has multiple sclerosis, said Shark Punch helps people with MS from overheating during exercise. Once users put on the headset, they will have to defend themselves by punching the virtual shark in the nose.

Quarles will soon start a small study with CRIT in order to submit an application to the National Institute of Health. He said he's seeking a grant to test the aquatic VR on a larger scale and, hopefully, impact more kids in the future.

“When you watch the kids, half of the time they don't want to take it off. They don't want to stop. That’s really a big highlight for me," he said. "That's one of the reasons why I want to keep doing this."