While it may look like a game board and users may find it fun to use, there is a serious intent behind a device created by engineering students at Rice University, Houston, TX, to test the abilities of cerebral palsy patients. The DeXcellence platform uses a small peg comfortable enough for a three-year-old to hold. But packed inside are enough electronics to tell a nearby computer, tablet, or other Bluetooth-enabled device of how the cylinder is moving in space.

In tandem with a board that directs the patient's movements, the cylinder sends a steady stream of data to the computer. That data is analyzed by the Rice team's software to give a therapist a clear picture of a patient's progress in physical therapy.

The device was designed by five Rice seniors who designed the project in collaboration with Shriners Hospital for Children, Houston, and their Rice advisers in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and in Bioengineering.

The peg complements the device that inspired it, a low-tech pegboard for evaluation known as a Functional Dexterity Test (FTD), in the clinic of Shriners' doctor Gloria Gogola, who suggested the students look into a way to quantify movement.

After observing patients using the original pegboard, the students discovered that the patients learned to cheat the system by dropping the peg and then moving it into the hole, instead of turning the peg in the air. Their device, they say, doesn't let that happen.

The DeXcellence portable board has two sides. One has targets and pop-up hurdles. The patient must pick the cylinder up from the center of one target and turn it 180 degrees while moving over the hurdle to the center of the next target. On the flip side is a set of paths the patient tracks with the peg. The entire time, electronics are silently sending data on where the cylinder is in space as well as its speed and orientation.

In addition to cerebral palsy therapy, the device might be used in any situation where dexterity, or the fine motor movements of the hand, need to be tested, such as to evaluate patients recovering from stroke, spinal cord injuries, trauma.