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Researchers Using Kinect To Reduce Cost, Subjectivity Of Childhood Medical Diagnosis
Researchers Using Kinect To Reduce Cost, Subjectivity Of Childhood Medical Diagnosis
March 14, 2011 | By Kyle Orland

March 14, 2011 | By Kyle Orland

University of Minnesota researchers are using an array of Kinect sensors as an objective way to measure potential disorder symptoms in children, saving tens of thousands of dollars over other diagnosis methods.

A cross-disciplinary team from Minnesota's Medical, Science and Engineering, and Education and Human Development Colleges has received an $3 million National Science Foundation grant to use the Kinect sensor in observing and analyzing abnormal movements and behaviors in children -- movements which might indicate problems like autism, attention-deficit disorder and OCD.

Such childhood evaluations are usually conducted using human observation of video data, combined with parental consultation. But lead researcher and professor Nikolaos Papanikolopoulos says the Kinect-based observation and analysis could take the subjectivity out of this process.

"As a doctor, you don't have tangible data," Papanikolopoulos told the AP. "We try to provide the tools in order to back up claims of a mental disorder."

Automating the process with a series of Kinect sensors saves money over human observation, but also over similar observation systems that can cost over $100,000 and require the attachment of intrusive sensors on the child, Papanikolopoulos said.

Open source PC drivers for the Kinect have already been used to adapt the $150 3D camera for everything from art projects to automated robotic helicopters. Last month, Microsoft announced an official SDK for the device will be available for free to non-commercial users this Spring.

While the Minnesota researchers' sensor is due to be ready for testing sometime in the next six months, Papanikolopoulos is reportedly already excited about further scientific uses for the Kinect.

"Something we can do three years down the line, we can do it today because of technology that was destined for the gaming industry," he told the AP. "I don't think Microsoft has realized that [the Kinect] is something that could change medicine."

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Jacek Wesolowski
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One day some game developer is going to invent a universal cure for cancer. They will show it to their management. The management will promptly patent the tech so that no one else can use it, and ask the game developer to develop a game with it. The development team will come up with a game called "Mad Avians", which lets you control a group of various kinds of pigeons in pursuit of a gang of feather stealing monkeys (the gameplay involves physics driven bombardment of monkey fortifications).

Carlo Delallana
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Way ahead of you Jacek ;)

Why is this game important? What big problems is this game tackling?

Protein structure prediction: As described above, knowing the structure of a protein is key to understanding how it works and to targeting it with drugs. A small proteins can consist of 100 amino acids, while some human proteins can be huge (1000 amino acids). The number of different ways even a small protein can fold is astronomical because there are so many degrees of freedom. Figuring out which of the many, many possible structures is the best one is regarded as one of the hardest problems in biology today and current methods take a lot of money and time, even for computers. Foldit attempts to predict the structure of a protein by taking advantage of humans' puzzle-solving intuitions and having people play competitively to fold the best proteins.

Protein design: Since proteins are part of so many diseases, they can also be part of the cure. Players can design brand new proteins that could help prevent or treat important diseases.

How does my game playing contribute to curing diseases?

With all the things proteins do to keep our bodies functioning and healthy, they can be involved in disease in many different ways. The more we know about how certain proteins fold, the better new proteins we can design to combat the disease-related proteins and cure the diseases. Below, we list three diseases that represent different ways that proteins can be involved in disease.

Jacek Wesolowski
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I've actually heard of this. It's basically the opposite of what I'm talking about. It's a game as a means to engage volunteers in productive activity (as opposed to inventing useful tech and forging it into a mildly entertaining gimmick).