When it comes to upper-limb rehabilitation, it's helpful for patients to replicate real-life tasks in which they repeatedly pick up and precisely place objects. According to scientists from Israel's Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, a good way of motivating patients to do that is to have them play tic tac toe against a robot.

In the study, human test subjects squared off against a camera-guided Kinova Mico robotic arm. Instead of drawing Xs and Os on a piece of paper, the people and the robot took turns placing plastic cups of two different colors within a wooden grid located between them. Along with competing against the robot, the test subjects also played against an Arduino microcomputer that indicated which grid squares it was choosing simply by illuminating LEDs within those squares.

There was a total of 62 test subjects, all of them healthy and right-handed, and they were divided into two age groups – 40 were around 25 years old (23 women and 17 men) while the other 22 were about 75 years old (10 women and 12 men). Both groups stated that they preferred playing against the robot, with the younger people stating that it "was more interesting, fun and appealing," while the older subjects said that it was more human-like.

When asked which system they'd prefer for playing another two games, people from both groups chose the robot. However, when that number was bumped up to another 10 games, the younger test subjects chose the LED system.

"Some of the young adults complained that the robot moved too slowly; therefore, they preferred the quicker system when asked to play many more games," says lead scientist Dr. Shelly Levy-Tzedek. "That indicates a need to personalize the speed of the robot to each participant."

The researchers now hope that the robotic system, which is described in a paper recently published in the journal Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience, could be trialled on the rehabilitation of stroke victims. It can be seen in action, in the video below.

Source: American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev via EurekAlert