Event Spotlight: Brian Cohn at Unity for Humanity 2020

SMART-VR community member Brian Cohn recently presented at the Unity for Humanity Summit 2020 on “Game Design for Neurophysiological Studies”. In this talk, he presents an overview of his most recent work with Virtual Reality and Parkinson’s Disease, as well as creative methods for data tracking in neurophysiological studies.

The INSIGHT project, which addresses essential tremors in Parkinson’s disease, allows for live data on movement to be collected and attenuated for increased stabilization. This helps the player move more precisely to complete game objectives within Virtual Reality. The degree of tremor along the X, Y, and Z axes can be adjusted to create the most responsive and high-quality movements possible. This study has recently been extended to include patients with pediatric Cerebral Palsy. In addition to gathering information on tremor and movement, their research now includes EEG activity of the brain and EMG signals from the muscles of the arm.

The second project focused on relationships between movement patterns and brain activity using Virtual Reality equipment. This study sought to understand which areas of the brain correspond with certain muscles during movement, and how these neural pathways may be affected in the event of injury or disease. To accomplish this, EMG recordings of the participant’s muscles were combined with Vive trackers placed on key areas of movement. The input gathered from these devices were combined to develop the in-game objective of completing a hertz (one cycle every two seconds to score points.

In conclusion, he offers a series of takeaways for anyone interested in pursuing scientific game development in the future. First, developing an intervention in the context of a fun and engaging game provides greater opportunities to gather objective data. Second, be willing to bring your intervention to the participant themselves, as this can help eliminate common barriers with participation. Finally, consider ways to apply Virtual Reality devices in creative ways beyond their typical applications. Data tracking capabilities, along with the ability to connect to multiple game engines, can make the development of studies on motor movement a much more efficient process.

Brian Cohn is a recent USC PhD graduate in Computer Science and the founder of Kaspect, an AI consultant to Fortune 500 and biotech companies. He is currently a graduate research fellow at the National Science Foundation, where he studies mathematical theory and clinical practice for measuring and detecting high-dimensional neuromuscular control.