MTD Innovation Award for Master Thesis of Digital Healthcare Graduate Bianca Bichler
The annual MTD Innovation Award, which was recently given away for 2021, honours projects in the field of medical/technical services.
The award for the best master thesis went to Bianca Bichler, a graduate of the St. Pölten UAS’ degree programme Digital Healthcare, who developed a virtual reality game that helps people with leg prostheses train everyday activities.
Virtual Reality in Rehabilitation
Every year, approximately 1,800 people in Austria need to have one of their lower extremities amputated. Due to increasingly unhealthy lifestyles and the growing number of persons affected by vascular diseases, this number is expected to more than double by 2050. The patients are restricted in their daily activities and bodily functions for a long time. Virtual reality-based (VR) therapy is a relatively new and promising approach to rehabilitation.
Bichler’s thesis “Doorz – VR-gestütztes Training von Aktivitäten des täglichen Lebens für Personen mit Beinprothesen“ (Doorz – VR-Assisted Training of Everday Activities for People with Leg Prostheses) examines the potential of such forms of therapy. For this purpose, Bichler created an original game: in a virtual world, the users have to open doors and react to events spontaneously.
“For my thesis, I developed a VR prototype that helps people train the spontaneous execution of a step in a certain direction – an activity that many people with leg prostheses have problems with. I recruited test persons who evaluated the game’s usability and gave me feedback on the training and their motivation”, says Bichler.
Easing Pain, Increasing Motivation
According to the graduate, such VR therapies could also help ease (phantom) pains and support affected persons in regaining their motor functions and carrying out everyday activities.
“Virtual reality has proven its worth as an addition to conventional therapy for people suffering from an amputation of a lower extremity. VR helps to increase motivation and has the power to support therapy in the long term”, explains Jakob Doppler, Academic Director of the degree programme Digital Healthcare at the St. Pölten UAS.
Research and Teaching Combined
Bichler developed the game within the framework of a research project (ReMoCapLab) which investigates the application of virtual reality in the healthcare sector and in rehabilitation. It is part of a research specialisation in digital healthcare that has been established at the St. Pölten UAS over several years.
“The final thesis of Bianca Bichler is an excellent example of the successful combination of teaching and research at our university of applied sciences. While she was writing her thesis, Bianca was directly involved in our research team and had access to the developed prototypes, and we offered her assistance in the further development of her work. Her background as an occupational therapist and her interdisciplinary Digital Healthcare studies enabled Bichler to contribute valuable know-how to the research and development process. Her thesis honoured with the MTD Innovation Award is a great success in every respect”, emphasises Brian Horsak, Head of the Center for Digital Health and Social Innovation at the St. Pölten UAS, who supervised the thesis together with junior researcher Lucas Schöffler.
At the ReMoCapLab, a multidisciplinary team from the fields of health sciences and digital technologies at the St. Pölten UAS are working together. The ReMoCapLab is subsidised by the Federal Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs within the framework of the programme COIN Aufbau of the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG).
Bianca Bichler’s award-winning game:
Videos on the topic of VR and Exergaming in the ReMoCapLab:
Related Labs at St. Pölten UAS
MTD Innovation Award
The award is given away by MTD-Austria, the umbrella association for High-Level Allied Health Professions in Austria.
FH-Prof. Priv.-Doz. Dr. Brian HorsakHead of Center for Digital Health and Social Innovation Senior Researcher Institute of Health Sciences Department of Health Sciences
FH-Prof. Jakob Doppler, MScAcademic Director Digital Healthcare (MA)
Department Media and Digital Technologies Head of Center for Digital Health and Social Innovation
Department Health Sciences Member of the UAS Board from 2020 to 2023