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Dr. Babak Taati

From tracking satellites to stroke recovery

What is a computer engineer who worked in satellite detection, space robotics and 3-D computer modeling doing in stroke recovery research?

It seems like an obvious question, but Dr. Babak Taati, a CPSR researcher with a PhD in computer vision, thinks the connections are clear.

Instead of tracking satellites, the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute scientist is tracking stroke patients (their balance, the way they walk and sit) to identify problems and help develop individualized stroke recovery therapies.

Instead of developing space robotics, he is working to create cheap and affordable monitoring systems that people can use at home to analyze their balance and prevent falls.

Instead of building computer models of cities, he is developing an “augmented reality” tool that places stroke patients in a personalized computer game with illusions to trick their brains to improve arm function.

The augmented-reality tool, which includes a head-mounted display and a device that tracks body movements, is being tested on healthy volunteers and, in a few months, the first stroke patients will try it.

Mind-blowing, yes. But also mind expanding, building new connections in the brain after stroke.

“If you are not really doing a movement but you see yourself doing it, and you think you are doing it, somehow that helps the rehabilitation process and hopefully you are going to be able to do it eventually,” Dr. Taati explains.

His work involves computer programming, artificial intelligence, computer visioning and, in real time, modifying what the stroke patient is doing to provide a visual image of what he or she actually wants to do.

“I am really excited about this,” Dr. Taati says.

No wonder.