Wearable vibrotactile stimulation: How passive stimulation can train and rehabilitate
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Haptic feedback from wearable devices is primarily used for alerts and virtual reality; however, wearable computing provides unique advantages in haptic interaction. Wearable devices can now provide tactile stimulation for extended periods of time and in the background of other tasks. Since repetition is key to practice, learning, and rehabilitation, stimulation for extended periods of time may enable intensive haptic training or mobile stimulation therapy. Training and rehabilitation require time, dedication and sometimes exertion. Stimulation in the background of other tasks can allow passive training and therapy, without requiring movement or attentional focus from the user. My work takes advantage of these unique considerations to develop wearable computing solutions to help address real-world applications, while informing what is possible using passive tactile stimulation and enabling others to apply these methods in the future. Ambient stimuli can enable passive learning: training while users are focused on other tasks. Most research on this topic has used audio or visual stimuli, and few have explored the use of haptic stimuli for passive learning. In this dissertation, I present evidence that wearable vibrotactile stimulation can help train a variety of skills including those involving rhythm, simultaneous actions, and various body parts. This work also provides essential guidelines on how to construct wearable computing systems that apply this technique to practical problems. Results suggest that this passive training method may allow users to recall dozens of motor actions with little practice and learn challenging skills with less difficulty. Wearable vibrotactile stimulation may also help re-train sensorimotor functions, for example, diminished arm function after a stroke. Stroke can lead to chronic physical disability in the limbs. In fact, stroke is the leading cause of adult disability in the US. Preliminary evidence suggests that peripheral tactile stimulation may facilitate limb rehabilitation, but current methods for applying this technique are limited to laboratory settings. Currently, there is no device available to administer and study therapeutic tactile stimulation for extended periods of time or outside the clinic environment. I present a low-cost, wireless wearable device to provide tactile stimulation therapy and an initial randomized controlled trial in stroke survivors over 8 weeks. Results suggest that wearable vibrotactile stimulation may also be a powerful tool to reduce disability after a stroke.