How an Elephant & His Balloon Could Lift Pediatric Mobility
Sometimes the biggest obstacles between a child and power mobility are Mom and Dad. Nervous parents doubt their child’s ability to safely operate a power wheelchair weighing hundreds of pounds. So a kid capable of independent mobility at an early age never gets the chance to prove it.
Tiki the elephant could change all that.
Up in the Sky, It’s… an Elephant
Tiki is the star of LOONZ, a video game created by Stealth Products and Trident Research. Tiki also dreams of going places — not in a power chair, but in his hot-air balloon.
Gabriel Romero, Stealth’s VP of sales and marketing, and a gamer, said, “I was amazed there were so many cool games that weren’t accessible. I started thinking it would be great to have a game that families and clinicians could utilize for training purposes, for assessing.”
Stealth and Trident Research partnered on Stealth’s i-Drive power chair drive control. “I was telling Trident it would be really awesome if we could come up with a training game,” Romero said. “Something that would take you through the steps of learning how to use your alternative drive control, no matter what it is. It would teach you how to use the left function and the right function. It would teach you how to do forward functions, but it would also teach you how to do forward and left.”
LOONZ: COURTESY STEALTH PRODUCTS.
Romero had a premise for a game featuring music and balloons controlled via i-Drive. “If you stayed on one of the balloons, it would inflate until the music stopped, and you are supposed to stop. If you don’t, it would pop.”
Trident engineers took that idea and developed LOONZ — short for balloons.
“The story is an elephant gets into an air balloon and wants to travel,” Romero said. “He’ll start on an island trying to recover gems and things that give him rewards. [The player] can inflate the balloon, so it will start to fly when he hits forward; Tiki will start to fly up. When he goes left, Tiki and the balloon go left. If he double taps, the balloon goes in the opposite direction.”
The game’s functions mimic those of a power chair. In the first LOONZ level, Tiki seeks a single coin directly to his left. “The correct thing to do on a head array is hit the left command and go get the coin,” Romero said. “Once you get the coin, it says stage complete.”
Behind the Scenes
As the child plays, LOONZ collects downloadable data on the child’s performance, Romero said. “How accurate were you? If you went up or to the right, your [score] would go down. But if you went straight to the left, your accuracy could be 100 percent.”
As the player progresses, LOONZ becomes more challenging, so Tiki and his balloon need to navigate left and up to collect a coin. LOONZ tracks how quickly the child nabbed the coin, and whether there were stray commands
(e.g., hitting the down button before correctly hitting the left button).
“You’re trying to achieve a high percentage,” Romero said. “I don’t want to tell you what it should be, like You have to be above 80 percent. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you just have to be above 60 or 70 percent to do a moving chair assessment. I don’t think you need to be 100 percent before you can get into a chair. If they’re improving, fantastic. If they’re getting quicker, fantastic. But the decisions are going to be made by the people actually working with the client.”
That’s because while LOONZ is indeed a game — it’s now a free download in MANAGEMENTapp stores — its ultimate goal is to help assess kids for power mobility, or to help kids to improve their skills, if necessary. LOONZ can be played on an i-Drive — specifically, the new Bluetooth-equipped model that launched this year — and Stealth now offers an i-Drive “assessment package.” That package enables i-Drive to connect, for instance, to a tablet loaded with LOONZ. Parents can watch their child succeed at LOONZ — and demonstrate the ability to control a power chair — without the child having to sit in an actual power chair.
LOONZ: COURTESY STEALTH PRODUCTS. PEARCE & WILL SMITHSON: PHOTO BY VICTORIA STEELMAN IMAGES
Stealth Products’ client Pearce Smithson plays LOONZ with his dad, Will.
“I’ve used this on an assessment table in a clinic,” Romero said. “We used a beanbag and a mini joystick and a tablet, and the child was playing the game while sitting there.”
LOONZ could help clinicians to track a child’s readiness for power mobility, while helping parents to feel more comfortable about considering that idea.
Romero said he imagines a therapist talking to a parent: “‘He’s doing really well. Why don’t we get him into a power chair?’ And the mother says, ‘You think?’ ‘Yes — look, he was at 40 percent when he started this, and now he’s at 80 percent. Let’s just try it.’”
And LOONZ has even bigger goals down the road. Romero eventually wants to launch a pure gaming version just for fun, so “able-bodied individuals and individuals with disabilities could play this game and play against each other, and nobody would know the difference.”
This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of Mobility Management.