Personal Tech

Brown, RISD students create toys for kids with cerebral palsy

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Mark Baard
July 7, 2008

It's almost always a good thing when Brown University engineers and RISD designers put their heads together.

The latest of these left-brain right-brain collaborations is Toys and Technology for Rehabilitation, a program for kids with cerebral palsy at the Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence.

Brown and Rhode Island School of Design students and their professors have developed more than a dozen toys and radio controllers that compensate for a lack of fine motor skills with controllers that strap to a child's wrist or forearm.

The Brown-RISD group hopes its toys - which include a radio-controlled car, a dinosaur, and a tabletop racetrack - will strengthen limbs weakened by the disease.

They also hope the kids will enjoy the toys.

Each has sensors that will tell doctors how often it is picked up and played with.

The Toys and Technology for Rehabilitation folks next will track up to 20 kids, ages 5 to 12, to see whether the toys are strengthening their muscles.


Real wood guitar makes Playstation sessions rock

I've been reading reports that the toy guitars (let's be real, that's what they are) made for Rock Band and Guitar Hero are not cross-compatible. But from what I've seen of these ticky-tacky plastic peripherals, I am amazed anyone would want to hold one.

A new Boston company, Peak Products (, has unveiled a more realistic "guitar" designed to work with both games.

The Starpex guitar controller, for use with Playstation 2 and 3, looks, feels, and responds to your touch like the real thing. Its body, neck, and headstock are made with hardwood, and it has a metal whammy bar.

The guitar game player has dedicated buttons positioned for optimal play (and higher scores) in both titles, according to Peak. Its fret buttons are positioned high up, for example, which should be good for your solos in Rock Band.

The Starpex comes with a 15-foot cable, but you can use it with a 2.4 GHz wireless connection as well.

Peak's guitar game controller, at about $180 at electronics retailers, is not cheap. But the Starpex will grow with you, or at least keep pace with your changing tastes. Peak has built the Starpex with a modular design, so you'll be able to swap in new hardwood guitar bodies, pick guards, and electronic components.

Power supplies

USB stick kick-starts your gadgets when outlets are hard to find

You are not the only thing running on fumes in this desperate age of business travel, when Homeland Security mistakes energy drinks for Molotov cocktails and energy bars for C-4 plastic explosives.

Even if you manage to stay on your feet, your gadgets are always threatening to konk out, as those airport lines get longer, traffic jams grow larger, and you wait for your ground transportation.

But a very handy (and at about $70, affordable) USB gadget, the Powerstick ( will let you siphon juice from your powered-up laptop to your hand-held devices. It's a tidy way to keep your mobile office humming.

You charge the Powerstick by plugging it into your computer's USB port. A gauge shows when it's fully charged. You then plug the stick into the device that needs charging.

The Powerstick comes with adapters that make it compatible with devices from major manufacturers, but scope out the Powerstick website first, to make sure yours is a match.

You can use your phone or media player while the device is charging.

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