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Hollywood tech lands a leading role in health care

PT is having an ET moment.

Tech is starting to find its way into physical therapy, where the tools that helped animate Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings” series of films are now allowing you to get a trainer-supervised workout in your living room.

Here’s what it looks like: You turn on a TV, start a special program from a company like Reflexion Health, which makes a system called Vera that connects to two cameras you stand in front of. One records your movements for a clinician to watch while the other actually tracks your body’s joints.

Unlike in the movies, where that information is then used to help animate a computer-generated character, these programs use it to see how well you’re doing various exercises.

With Reflexion, you watch an avatar clad in blue and black workout gear — named Vera, or Virtual Exercise Rehabilitation Assistant — as she demonstrates proper exercise form for patients to follow along with on a TV.

81b6b_patientapp Hollywood tech lands a leading role in health care

Motion capture is being used to help patients do their exercises from home. 

Reflexion Health

Vera might ask you to hold onto the back of a chair and lift your right leg to the side, for example. If she detects that your left leg is moving forward during the exercise, she’ll tell you to keep it in place.

“Just because the clinician gives you a sheet saying, ‘OK, do these five exercises twice a day,’ it doesn’t mean that it gets done,” said Sudipto Sur, chief technology officer of Reflexion. By comparison, he said, a system that can remind patients about exercises, and help them actually do them, tends to have them do it more.

Vera is just the latest example of how the tech that’s already invaded our lives is finally finding its way into medicine as well. And that’s pretty noteworthy considering many doctors still carry pagers made in the 1990s on their belts and in their purses when they’re on call at their hospitals.

In this case, motion capture technology is finding its way into medicine at a time when it’s booming in mainstream technology. It’s been used for decades by Hollywood moviemakers by tracking an actor’s movements with a camera and computer. Video game makers have also used this technology to help count your score in titles like Ubisoft’s Just Dance.

In the past year, Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft have expanded motion tracking as part of virtual and augmented reality, in which computer generated images are overlaid on the real world. For Apple and Google, that means apps like Snapchat that can put digitally-created masks on your face. Facebook and Microsoft, meanwhile, are using the technology to help make their Oculus and Hololens headsets track people’s movements as they’re working and playing in virtual worlds.

Now tracking technology is beginning to find its way into telemedicine, a growing field in which patients who live far from a hospital or doctor can communicate with physicians through audio, video and data connections. A patient who has recently undergone surgery might have difficulty driving to a clinic, or they may live far from medical expertise.  So telemedicine, through an app like Doctor on Demand, provides a way for them to receive care from a distance.

Telemedicine itself is finally taking off, with more than half of all US hospitals using it in some form, according to the nonprofit American Telemedicine Association. That’s thanks in part to greater availability of quick internet connections and smartphones, among other factors.

Now, products like Vera and the Polhemus G4, a wireless motion tracker, look like they could be the next step. Using motion capture technology to provide physical therapy in real time might even lead to quicker results.

“The patient becomes more engaged in their therapy,” said Gartner analyst Mark Gilbert, who added that the result is patients get healthier faster. “The patient is able to perform therapy at their convenience, at their own time and their own location.”

Health 2.0

The promise of this tracking technology goes beyond merely following exercises you see on a TV, and then hearing a program tell you how well you did.

Marcelo Kallmann, professor of computer science at the University of California, Merced, who’s been researching the best way to design these new types of programs, is also looking into virtual reality headsets. These devices, which put a screen so close to your face they trick your brain into thinking you’re actually in the computer-generated world, could allow you to watch a virtual trainer do the exercise.

Why would that be better than merely using a TV?

“The conclusion really is: it depends on the target,” Kallmann said. If the goal is to train someone to hit a precise target as part of an exercise or activity, then the added depth perception in 3D might be helpful. But if the goal is to have someone watch a virtual trainer lead an exercise, then VR and 3D don’t provide much benefit, he said.

The system Kallmann’s team developed and tested at the UC Davis Medical Center didn’t involve using a head-mounted display. Instead, images were presented on a regular PC, and Kinect was used for motion capture. That doesn’t mean VR is totally out of the picture going forward, though.

Matt Elrod, a lead specialist at the American Physical Therapy Association, says these types of technologies can be helpful, but he worries people may become over-reliant on them.

“If somebody has a shoulder problem, just to say, ‘Go do this technology’ is really not the best bet,” Elrod said. “What you need is a thorough evaluation, screening [and] examination to determine where the dysfunction really is.”

Still, Hadiya Green Guerrero, a senior practice specialist at the APTA, said technology won’t be replacing a real physical therapist anytime soon.

“Technology can definitely augment what we do as physical therapists,” she said. “Those who use it know that it’s not a replacement for a physical therapist.”

In the meantime, you can expect to see even more tech in health. Virtual simulations are being used to train medical students and to help midwives learn how to deliver babies. Kallmann said physical therapists have been using commercial games like the Nintendo Wii Fit with their patients for quite some time, and systems like Vera are taking that technology to the next level. He expects we’ll be seeing more of these types of applications.

“From the technology point of view, it’s not that difficult to do,” Kallmann said. “The techniques are already out there.”

The Smartest Stuff: Innovators are thinking up new ways to make you, and the things around you, smarter.

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Pixel 2 XL’s lovely video-scaling gesture for YouTube lands on LG V30 and Galaxy S8 Plus

12053_Youtube-pinch-zoom-840x420 Pixel 2 XL's lovely video-scaling gesture for YouTube lands on LG V30 and Galaxy S8 Plus

Google has made a habit out of using its Pixel devices as a testbed of sorts for new Android features that eventually make their way to phones from other manufacturers.

One such feature was YouTube’s pinch-to-zoom gesture that debuted in version 12.40. This neat addition to the app’s playback controls gave Pixel 2 XL users the option to stretch out videos to fill the handset’s elongated screen – and now it’s on its way to other phones too.

Most YouTube videos are optimized to fit a standard 16:9 aspect ratio display. This causes a bit of an issue for the current wave of near bezel-less phones that sport 18:9 screens.

The cumbersome solution had been a pair of two black bars that play either side of 16:9 video content, but with the Pixel 2 XL, Google chose to add the pinch-to-zoom option as a way of eliminating the dead space (as seen in the screenshot above that I took on a Pixel 2 XL while watching a YouTube video).

Up until now, anyone buying an 18:9 phone (or other stretched aspect ratio devices) that wasn’t a Pixel 2 XL had to put up with less intuitive app scaling settings.

Best budget phones with (near) bezel-less displays

Thankfully, as of YouTube version 12.44, other phones will also be supported. The folks over at Android Police have only confirmed that the gesture works on the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus or LG V30 after the update, but many more are likely to follow.

For what it’s worth, I tried a few non-bezel-less phones as a quick experiment and had no luck, but make sure to let us know how you get on in the comments. You can download the latest update from the Play Store or, if it isn’t live for you just yet, via an APK Mirror link here.

Hitlist lands on Android to help you find bargain travel deals

4df45_hitlist Hitlist lands on Android to help you find bargain travel deals

Hitlist, an app that serves up bargain-priced flights and travels deals, has finally winged its way to Android after years on iOS and the web.

The service is simple: you tell it where you live and it will sort through millions of deals from travel partners to find you discounted flights to nearby destinations that you can go ahead and book from your phone.

A more sophisticated feature inside the app lets you keep a list of running list of destinations you’d like to visit. You key in some basic details, such as tentative dates and price, and when a related deal pops up, the app will notify you, giving you one less excuse to avoid booking that dream trip.

The advanced feature — which requires users to register for a Hitlist account — also includes social features that let you view friends’ lists, destination guides, flexiblefuzzy date searches and hotel booking options. The more info you feed Hitlist, the better it becomes at figuring out what you’re into. It’s a beautiful virtuous travel circle that’s intended to plunk you on the beach, or another exotic location, with extra cash in your pocket, too.

Histlist began four years ago out of a hackathon project and, having faithfully served iOS device owners and web users via its highly addictive Wantertab Chrome extension, it is now making the move to Android devices to reach more deal-seekers.

You can download it for Android right here.

“We’ve always wanted to have apps out there for both major platforms. Android is more complicated to support thanks to the variety of screen sizes and versions, but users of our other products, like Wandertab, have been asking for it for years, so we had to do this for them,” Gillian Morris, CEO of TripCommon — the startup that operates Hitlist — said in a statement.

Morris told TechCrunch that the service has saved its customers over $20 million in travel deals since it started out.

High-octane shoot-’em-up Death Road to Canada lands on Android

It’s almost Halloween and we’ve got some good news for zombie fans out there: Death Road to Canada is now available on Android. The side-scrolling arcade action title, which hit iOS in March, is developed by Rocketcat Games and features old-school pixel graphics, hordes of zombies, tons of weapons and a banging soundtrack — what’s not to like!

Death Road to Canada sees you take control of “a group of jerks” as they travel on a road trip to the last standing nation on the planet, Canada, in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. It includes randomly generated levels which you must plough through while mowing down up to 500 on-screen enemies at once. It’s all very tongue-in-cheek, with weapons like pirate cutlasses and boomerangs, and you can even insert family members into the game with the character builder. 

15 best action games for Android!

What’s more, Death Road is published by Noodlecake Studios, known for a host of excellent Android games like Alto’s Adventure and FRAMED, so it’s from a good pedigree.

But it doesn’t come cheap: the title will set you back $9.99 on Google Play, similar to its iOS and Steam prices (though it’s currently a little cheaper on Steam on account of it being part of the platform’s Halloween sale). What you get for that, however, is an actual, complete video game free from ads and in-app purchases. If you’re interested, check it out at the link below. 

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