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Specially-designed Controller Enables Individuals with Parkinson’s disease and ALS to Play Video Games

Project: Morse Breath Controller (MBC)
Principal Investigator: Umer Noor, Program Coordinator, Game Programming, Faculty of Media and Creative Arts
Students: Aditya Dutta, Henry Boy

As more people play video games in an expanding billion-dollar industry, accessibility has grown as a requirement to meet the needs of different players. This includes a growing population of gamers with disabilities, who were limited in playable hardware for their favourite games.

The Morse Breath Controller (aka the MBC), is a specially-designed controller that enables individuals diagnosed with ALS and Parkinson’s disease to play video games over a PC platform.

Divided into four modules, the MBC’s major part includes a breath sensor which registers different patterns as actions in a game. By using Morse Code, Humber Game Programming Advanced Diploma alumnus Aditya Dutta was able to give players an endless combination of gestures in short and long breaths. This enables users to play a video game without compromises, alongside two large programmable buttons and an intuitive joystick. A bonus component also lets users attach a gyroscope to any part of their body to move game characters in real-time.

Developed by Dutta as his capstone, he brought his concept to life with the help of Humber Bachelor of Industrial and Project Design student Henry Boy. Catherine Chong, Professor in the Faculty of Applied Sciences and Technology, supervised Boy and recommended his expertise for the project. The team was also advised by Game Programming Coordinator Umer Noor, who suggested the MBC should work with all games instead of a select few.

This ambition took a giant leap when they built the digitally-made prototype, using resources provided by Humber’s Office of Applied Research & Innovation and the Barrett Centre for Technology Innovation (Barrett CTI).

Apart from building the MBC, Boy also gave Dutta his suggestions and design choices which were informed by his relationship with an individual with ALS and included details such as “light touch” buttons. The MBC’s four pieces could also be rebuilt into any order the player chooses.

“I see the people around me playing games and playing games actually gives a sense of achievement for some people like when you win something,” Dutta said, adding the experience should be available to people with disabilities.

Dutta was also able to connect with a regional rehabilitation hospital through Humber’s Office of Applied Research & Innovation before extending the MBC for the Makers Making Change program by the Neil Squire Society. He also connected with leading game disability advocacy group AbleGamers, who requested to see the prototype.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, Dutta is looking forward to potentially collaborating with AbleGamers to test the controller with patients to be able to give those with ALS and Parkinson’s disease the same sense of achievement which inspired him to pursue game programming.

Morse Breath Controller