Physiotherapy could be getting a high-tech update with the development of a virtual coach.

The idea behind the coach is to have a program where clients can receive feedback from a physiotherapist while working on prescribed exercises at home.

“It minimizes error – because I can teach them the exercise and then they have to go home and do it on their own,” said Bruce Craven, owner of Craven SPORT Services. “If they can do their technique correctly, with fewer errors, then it improves learning. Then when they come back and see me again, we can progress.”

The project – currently in its pilot stage – was developed in partnership between Craven SPORT Services and Saskatchewan Polytechnic. It uses video game-like technology to create a user-based kinematic system that registers movements of the body through a camera.

“We can actually evaluate the person’s movement without having to marker them,” Craven said. “It uses the person’s body and markers where that body is in space. Then as they do the exercise, it can calculate whether or not they’re doing the exercise properly.”

Craven works with a wide range of clients, from Olympic athletes to people who want to lessen pain while gardening. He said the goal is to eventually have the program available for everyone for use on tablets, laptops, and even TV monitors.

According to Terry Peckham, a Sask. Polytech research chair, one of the benefits of the coach comes for patients who live in other provinces, or don’t live in major centres – because they would no longer have to travel long distances to receive feedback from their physiotherapist.

“Some of those expert resources are very difficult to come across,” he said. “So the ability to be able to remotely coach or coach over long distances would be huge. It allows our athletes access to training facilities they don’t currently have where they happen to be.”

Sask. Polytech provided a team of both researchers and students to develop the program from an idea, to a working prototype. Peckham said the ability to work on the program was a huge benefit for the students, because they’re able to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to real world situations.

“We end up with a much better student at the end of it because they’ve actually had a chance to put it in practice,” he said.