Game Accessibility

FWD News: Innovation in Video Game Controllers

A Thermoelectric ControllerWhether used in a medical or accessible setting, video game controllers continue to see their uses diversify as they become more advanced. In one case, doctors are using what looks like a typical game controller to do sensitive heart surgery. The Sensei X Robotic Catheter was developed by Hansen Medical to integrate 3D visualization and motor controls into an innovative new medical tool.

Specialists working with the Sensei system first practice on video simulated hearts and later use the same technology to operate on real patients. Dr. Andrew Kaplan, a Cardiac Electrophysiologist with the Banner Heart Hospital is one of these specialists. According to Kaplan, Sensei’s biggest advantage is that it is less invasive, more successful, and allows for quicker recovery times than traditional surgery. Read More...

"It kind of brings me on par with my son who is an avid video game player because now I can participate in the same activities at work," said Dr. Kaplan.

"It sounds bizarre at first,” says one patient. “I have a PlayStation at home. It's a relief knowing they're using cutting edge technology to do [my procedure]."

Adapted video game controllers also play an important role in the lives of many living with physical disabilities. As part of Game Accessibility Day at the 2010 Games for Health conference, the Hardware Hacker Challenge asked three modders to create a customized Xbox 360 controller which could be used with ease by someone living with muscular dystrophy.

Steve Spohn, who is associate editor at AbleGamers, evaluated the controllers which had to be designed within a two hour session. Spohn uses a wheelchair and has limited motion in his hands due to the degenerative condition.

“I think the controller itself is important because when you're disabled, sometimes you're bed-bound ... and really, video games are your escape and controllers allow you to get to them," said Spohn.

The prototype, built from Xbox 360 controller parts, duct tape, Velcro and a bag of rice, was designed by Adam Coe of Evil Controllers, Ben Heckendorn of BenHeck.com and Suzanne Robitaille of Abledbody, with Spohn's limited range of motion in mind.

"The real benefit is that all these buttons are actually considered blank, so you can assign any function you want to them," said Coe. "You can make them all the 'A' button, you can make them all the 'B' button, you can do whatever you want."

While the controller is not set for commercial release, Spohn feels it is the beginning of a well-polished product which definitely has its purpose. "It's important for people like me to have access to the outside world," said Spohn. "And for some of us, that's through games."

Meanwhile, researchers at the Tokyo Metropolitan University, in collaboration from the National Institute of Special Needs Education unveiled a new controller at the 2010 SIGGRAPH conference which ran from July 27-29, 2010, in Los Angeles, CA. The experimental controller adds cold and hot sensations which simulate video game environments.

The controller is said to use thermoelectric panels on each side to add to a player’s sensory experience. The temperature shift ranges by ten degrees in either direction. The device's main purpose is to offer a new sensory interface for visually-impaired gamers.