Interview with Team Bend, Winner of IEEE R10HTC 2019 Project Competition


A student team, Team Bend from department of Computer Science & Engineering (CSE), Amrita School of Engineering, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Coimbatore Campus, India has won the IEEE Region 10 (Asia-Pacific) Humanitarian Technology Project Competition 2019 held at University of Indonesia, Depok on 12th November 2019. Team Bend developed a Virtual Reality (VR) game to reduce lower back pain which is rampant among young professionals especially for those working long hours in coding, IT and service companies. With the tagline for their project, “Gaming is not an addiction but a therapy”, Team Bend competed against student innovators from countries like Japan, China, Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia to emerge on top of this Engineering Festival for Humanity.  IEEE R10 Today interviews this team consisting of students, B. Nehal Ram Surya, Kishore Ramesh, Mohan Karthik V., Ragul P along with their faculty mentor, Prof. Prashant R. Nair from Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham (University), India.

Q: What motivated you guys to work on this project?

Nehal: Billions of dollars are being spent annually for back pain now-a-days. Most of the people experience back pain for a number of reasons and this is for people of all ages. An average age of experiencing back pain in recent times is 16 years. We did not start thinking about this all of the sudden, it all started in a train journey.  Once I was traveling to Bangalore for an event in September 2018 in a general class, which made us sit for 8 long hours in the train. It was not even 2 hours since the train started, some of my friends stood up and started walking here and there. When I asked one of my friends the reason, he said “How could one sit straight for two hours, we should have booked a sleeper seat”. That is when I started thinking about this. We are just 20/21 years old and how come back pain is so common among most of us. As an engineering student, I wanted to do something with the knowledge I had. Soon after I reached home at Coimbatore from Bangalore, and I had a discussion with my team mates.

Q: What are the reasons for back pain, especially among youngsters that motivated you to work on this problem?

Kishore: There are several reasons. But majorly, we found out in our research, the following reasons:

  • Sitting in front of computer for a long time which in-turn becomes a wrong sitting posture especially gamers, IT and software professionals,
  • People riding vehicles,
  • To be more precise, the most common reason was people sitting at a same place in a wrong posture for a long time.

Q: But can’t these be avoided by changing one’s behavior?

Kishore: True. It’s very difficult to change one’s behavior all of sudden. You can imagine the results when we advise people to sit properly. Or not to sit in front of the computer system for long time. Or do not ride vehicles. We wanted an effective solution that is well suited for the youth. Since it is a gaming era, we thought of an interactive gaming solution.

Q: What are the technologies that you have used for the VR game?

Mohan: The technology stack consists of two hardware modules and an interactive game. One module is a self-designed IoT device, which consists of a MPU6050 (9 DOF) to track the body movements, an Arduino-nano programmed to record the readings and an nRF24l01 to transmit the signals to the game through radio frequency. Second module is the market’s readily available VR/MR headset.

Q: Sounds exciting. What about the gaming part?

Ragul: In our product for the demo purpose, we used Lenovo’s Mixed Reality headset. We created a 3D game using Unity3D. First we developed an endless runner game like Temple Run, Subway-Surfers. We created game character such that both model and camera are in the same game object. Any movement we applied was on this game object. We also made sure camera had a 360-degree field of view without obstruction. We then interfaced our hardware to move our character in-game using Unity’s Serial Communication package. After which we added SteamVR plugin to our camera. This ported our game to VR and with the help of SteamVR we can play with almost all Mixed/Virtual Reality headsets available in the market. So at last it becomes a portable and compatible product with all the available headsets.

Q: What is your plan for the next two years?

Mohan: The team is in the full-fledged product development phase and we face a significant amount of challenges here; we estimate to complete a full-fledged product by the end of October 2020.  After which, we have planned Beta testing of our MVP (Minimum Viable Product) with all clinical trials under the supervision of physiotherapist, adhering to the medico-legal guidelines of the Indian government.  After the successful trials, we will initiate the process to get accreditation from IMA (Indian Medical Association) and also patent our product design which will be by end of May 2021. Then the product will be ready for market sales, where we have planned a subscription-based revenue model for our B2B customers (Health Centers, Physicians) which excludes the initial setup cost of the equipment. In the mean-time, we are also looking for some potential investors. Then we can go global.

Q: How did your university support this project?

Prashant: Our University, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, which is India’s number one private university, is very supportive of student innovation. We have been very much encouraged by the success at the prestigious IEEE R10HTC2019 project competition. This student innovation not only addresses the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of Healthcare but is line with the vision of our University Chancellor, world-renowned humanitarian leader, Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi’s vision of compassion-driven research. The university is supporting team Bend in patenting the idea as also publishing this work. Till now, we have also got support from our University’s Cisco ThingQbator IoT makerspace program for all the equipment and technical support for our proof of concept.

Nehal: Our team would like to place on record the encouragement of our university’s senior administration especially, Chief Operating Officer, Prof. C. Parameswaran and Dean, Faculty of Engineering, Dr. Sasangan Ramanathan.