The device leverages existing technology—like a computer or (in newer versions) a smartphone—to display the custom-built games and is complemented by the easy-to-use, spherical controller for people with hand impairments. The system is named OrbIT for the orb-shaped controller and the ‘information technology’ in the games catalogue and platform.
The controller, Orby, requires the player to use both hands to push and roll the device. Using both hands is a fundamental part of the rehabilitation elements of Orby’s design. If the player removes one hand, the proximity sensors will pause the game and alert the player with an on-screen reminder. There are no buttons, and it doesn’t require fine motor control.
Orby also provides haptic feedback – vibration under the gamer’s hands align with actions with the game. If the on-screen character runs into a tree or collects a game token, the under-hand pulse adds another dimension to the visuals, drawing players further into the game. It is another feature intentionally designed into the controller to improve the player’s sense of touch. Rehabilitation-specific features like these are intrinsic to the system’s design, yet what is striking from the first glance at Orby is that it does not look like a medical device.
“There was a very deliberate attempt to make something that doesn’t look like a medical device,” David explains. “Making it ‘cool’ was almost as important as functionality, which is quite rare.” Orby began as David’s PhD project and he was responsible for bringing together a team that would work together on different elements of Orby’s design. The diverse group included other biomedical engineers like himself as well as neuroscientists, rehabilitation experts industrial and game designers from various universities along with industry partners. They were all working together to create something that children wanted to use. Many people refuse to use assistive technologies because they are labelling. A walking cane or a wheelchair, for example, immediately indicates that the person can’t operate independently. For children, these devices can be socially isolating.