Limbitless Solutions’ UCF student scholars won top awards at the recently held Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation, and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) Serious Games Showcase & Challenge.

The conference is the world’s largest modeling, simulation, and training conference and attracts researchers worldwide. Starting in 2006, the Serious Games Showcase & Challenge is the world’s longest-running showcase of games made primarily for purposes other than entertainment.

The team submitted Limbitless Journey, a new training game designed to help patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) to control a wheelchair by electromyography (EMG) and regain autonomy.

Limbitless Solutions, a research program at UCF, is dedicated to increasing accessibility through creating accessibility devices with training games to empower children and adults in the disability community while also enhancing the workforce through its student scholar internship and research experience program.

The research and development of accessibility technology leverages video game-based training that converts muscle flexing into the video game character’s actions, led by Peter Smith ’05MS ’12PhD, associate professor, deputy assistant director and graduate coordinator for the games and interactive media program at the Nicholson School of Communication and Media, and Matt Dombrowski ’05 ’08MFA, associate professor of Emerging Media and assistant director with the School of Visual Arts and Design.

“At Limbitless, we want to create an enjoyable and immersive way for our patients to learn how to use their accessibility technology, while also gaining key insights about each of their specific needs,” says Smith. “Seeing students excel and have their hard work in the lab recognized in such a prestigious event is the goal of every educator. We are very proud of them. They are shining examples of what the Undergraduate Game Design Program at UCF is all about.”

Smith has participated in the I/ITSEC Serious Games Showcase & Challenge for the entire 18 years and served as the lead in 2012.

Interdisciplinary Research Program

For the Fall 2023 semester, Limbitless Solutions hosted 53 undergraduate students, with game art and software development students from the College of SciencesCollege of Engineering and Computer Science, and the College of Arts and Humanities. Many students come from the No. 6 globally ranked undergraduate Games and Interactive Media Program (GaIM) inside UCF’s Nicholson School of Communication and Media.

The program’s focus on developing workforce-ready graduates for the global entertainment games industry and the thriving local simulation and gaming industry has propelled the students to success.

The need for serious games can be seen in Limbitless’ “Project Xavier” hands-free wheelchair.

For patients using a powered wheelchair without sufficient functionality of their hands, a traditional joystick will not provide a function for steering and control. This situation may be indicative of conditions such as ALS, Parkinson’s disease, or quadriplegia, and result in a struggle to control their mobility devices.

The Limbitless Solutions research facility has developed a patented novel control interface, which attaches EMG sensors to the facial muscles to use subtle jaw flexes to control the steering of the wheelchair. This interface was evaluated in a clinical trial at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, with the results published in the Journal of Neuroengineering and Rehabilitation. The research demonstrated the potential of the hands-free wheelchair and vehicle controls, and the work with clinicians and patients helped identify training challenges.

In response to these training challenges, the team created a game for safe, low-stress practice of the system using novel EMG for mobility and eye tracking for hands-free calibration. The game was developed with support from the Pabst Steinmetz Foundation Arts & Wellness Innovation Awards. The awards were founded in 2018 by the Pabst Steinmetz Foundation to build sustainable models for arts and wellness innovation at UCF and in the Central Florida community. The students’ success propelled their professional development.

“The conference was a very rewarding experience to be able to showcase just some of the great work that Limbitless does for so many people,” says senior and Limbitless’ Game Design Scholar Eric Gass. “I am also very thankful for the opportunity I/ITSEC provides with the access to learn about so much of the latest technology that is entering the industry and for allowing me to see some of the cutting-edge ideas that could become extremely prevalent in the future.”

Game Design Scholar Jeffrey Stevenson, a sophomore, praised the experience at the conference for advancing his professional development.

“Attending I/ITSEC as part of the Serious Games Challenge is just one of the many great opportunities that working at Limbitless has presented me with,” Stevenson says. “I would have never thought that I would have the experience of showing off a game at a show like this while still in school. Being at Limbitless has given me so many chances to further my education and experience that I never would have had otherwise, and it’s one of my favorite things about working for the organization.”

Next Steps

Associate professors Smith and Dombrowski continue to progress with several projects directly impacting the training of accessibility technology, having recently received support from software development companies, including the Unity for Humanity Grant. The grant supports undergraduate student research experiences at Limbitless Solutions for students in the College of Sciences and the College of Arts and Humanities.

“We are thrilled to continue to involve our talented UCF undergraduate students in the development process,” says Dombrowski, who also serves as UCF’s School of Visual Arts and Design’s assistant director. “As these students graduate and continue their professional journey, we hope they carry forward the same empathetic design approach, enriching their future professional careers.”