Posted by Dr Charles Nduka.

Virtual Reality that puts a smile back on your face

Emteq is developing  technology that allows computers to read your facial expression and emotions.  This technology - named Facial Remote Activity Monitoring Eyewear (FRAME) is part of an £800,000 project funded by the National Institute for Health Research Invention for Innovation Programme. FRAME is being developed by a consortium led by Nottingham Trent University in collaboration with Queen Victoria Hospital in West Sussex, Brighton-based technology company Emteq, Coventry University, and the Facial Palsy UK charity.

FRAME: 6 stage therapy program

FRAME: 6 stage therapy program

At the core of the FRAME solution is a 6 stage therapy program has been designed for patients with facial palsy, with Emteq's technology included in steps 3 and 6. Step 3 includes the use of an EMG-sensing mask to enable the patient to achieve a neutral  resting muscle tone when in a relaxed state, which is required before they can start rehabilitation exercises. Step 6 will include a pair of glasses that can detect how well the patient is performing their facial recover exercises and alert them when required.

The technology will centre on the use of miniaturised sensors to measure facial symmetry by tracking the movement of muscles, and the intensity of those movements. The patient's smartphone will provide a schedule of routines, give live feedback, data on muscle tone, number of repetitions, weekly progress, and historical information.

"This is an exciting wearable technology and could make a major difference to thousands of people's lives," said Professor Breedon, a professor in smart technologies who leads Nottingham Trent University's Design for Health and Wellbeing Research Group, and who sits in the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment."

Stage 3 of the rehabilitation program using a Virtual Reality avatar to mimic the expression of a facial palsy patient attracted the attention of the BBC and was recently included as a special report on the evening news for the South East area.

People with facial palsy currently practice facial exercises in front of a mirror, but many dislike seeing their own reflection as it reminds them of their condition, and can make them feel discouraged and stop exercising altogether.

Once Emteq has developed a spectacle version of the technology, FRAME will allow patients to practice exercises discreetly while going about their lives and provide them with information on their progress.

Charles Nduka, Chief Scientific Officer of Emteq and consultant plastic and reconstructive surgeon at the Queen Victoria Hospital in West Sussex, said: “People with facial paralysis often have a tremendous difficulties relearning normal facial expressions due to the development of abnormal facial movement patterns. They repeatedly tell me that they don't want to look in a mirror because of the way they look. Unfortunately, without proper feedback their condition may worsen and lead to permanently abnormal movements. We hope that providing early positive reinforcement will help patients engage via their virtual avatar, and gain confidence to express themselves in daily interactions. But by wearing a pair of glasses which provide real-time muscle feedback, patients would be able to practice their exercises without having to stare at themselves in the mirror regularly."

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