An X-Factor style audition process will see some of Europe’s top developers compete to create products using virtual reality and digital technology to aid rehabilitation for people with a range of health concerns.

Researchers at Teesside University are part of the ambitious international project which will look towards digital technology and virtual reality to help provide support for people with a variety of health conditions.

Funding of 2.4 million euros has been awarded for the VR4Rehab project, which comprises Teesside University’s Centre for Rehabilitation Sciences, along with partners from universities, hospitals and industry in the Netherlands, UK, France, Germany and Belgium.

A series of ‘hackathons’ will take place across Europe bringing together developers in VR and digital technology with research and clinical experts from the various partners. The health experts will detail the issues and challenges faced with helping patients deal with various health problems, such as managing pain, controlling movement and encouraging physical and social activity.

The developers will then come up with ideas for digital and VR solutions, which will help address these issues and concerns.

Those who come up with the best ideas will be invited back to develop prototypes and pitch their solutions to a panel of experts in a number of ‘game jams’. A winner will be chosen in each theme and they will then work with the VR4Rehab team to bring their idea to market.

Professor Denis Martin is Professor of Rehabilitation at Teesside University and also Director of the Centre for Rehabilitation Sciences. His research specialises in the assessment and management of chronic pain and he has worked on several high profile projects, including The North of England Regional Back Pain Programme, which aims to help people with back pain self-manage their own condition, as well as Pain Garden, a website which uses the concept of gardening to illustrate more complex concepts about pain.

Professor Martin is the lead for Teesside University for this latest project and will be one of the experts heading-up the chronic pain theme. He will work alongside Dr Sam Harrison, Dr Cormac Ryan, Dr Shaun Wellburn and Professor John Dixon, all from the University’s School of Health & Social Care, as well as Professor Zulf Ali, Director of the University’s Healthcare Innovation Centre, through which the project will be operated.

The international project is being funded for three years, with the first year spent setting up the ‘hackathons’ across Europe, the second year seeing the ideas developed at ‘game jams’ across North West Europe, and the third year dedicated to the winners working with the VR4Rehab team to fully develop their ideas.

Professor Martin said: “I am delighted that Teesside University is able to be involved and provide expertise for such an exciting and innovative international project which should have a significant beneficial effect on a wide range of health issues.

“Digital technology and virtual reality can provide so many different opportunities within healthcare and rehabilitation and I’m looking forward to seeing what ideas and solutions the developers come up with.

“In terms of chronic pain, one of the problems people have is getting access to the right kind of advice and support – that is where things like interactive education and games can help people to better manage their lives while living with pain.

“This will be a tough process and we have likened it to the X-Factor – with auditions, a kind of digital boot camp, and the finalists working with expert mentors.”