Prof Stuart Smith

The Sunshine Coast has an exciting opportunity to establish itself as a world leader in interactive digital technologies for health, according to Stuart Smith, Professor of Disruptive Technologies at the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC).

“Australia has a good game developer community which has been very successful over the years; however some of that talent is now out of work because the industry is contracting and declining a bit. Instead, there is a massive market in the application of video games in healthcare settings,” he said.

“The Sunshine Coast can take a national and international lead in developing games for health.”

With the development of the Bachelor of Serious Games degree program at USC, Prof Smith says digitally creative students who want to build video games can be directed towards building games that can be useful for society, rather than games purely for entertainment.

“I am really interested in how we can explore the use of interactive visual technologies to disrupt existing processes, such as healthcare.”

How are interactive technologies disrupting healthcare?

Prof Smith said the emergence of personalised health and wellbeing technologies across the world was forcing the healthcare system to rethink its approach about how consumers could be proactive in maintaining their own health.

“We’re seeing new sensing technologies, digital communication, social network technologies and devices that can track elements of our health - how much weight we’ve put on, our physical activity, blood glucose levels and respiration.

“Suddenly the tools are in the hands of the consumer to take a more engaged and active participatory involvement in their own health and wellbeing. All of these technologies which are consumer-centric, are going to disrupt the way we think about healthcare delivery,” he said.

Gaming and technology for aged care living

“We know exercise is good for our health; but for some people, exercise may be too difficult, painful, expensive or not accessible in some way.”

“Suddenly the tools are in the hands of the consumer to take a more engaged and active participatory involvement in their own health and wellbeing.”

Prof Smith has been interested in how standard off-the shelf video gaming technologies can be used to address some of the emerging health issues such as postural instability and falls with older adults.

“One in three people over 65, who are otherwise independently living and relatively healthy, will have a fall each year, while many of them will have multiple falls. As we age, the risk of sustaining an injury as a result of a fall increases, such as fractured hips or broken bones.

“We know from an evidence base, that one of best ways to reduce risk of older adults having a fall is to do high doses of strength-based and balance-challenging exercises. The safest and cheapest place to exercise is in the home,” he said.

“While there are many commercial exercise-based video games (Wii, XBox, Playstation, etc) they aren’t really suitable for older people or for those recovering from stroke, spinal or sporting injury,” he said.

“This is where the Sunshine Coast can take a national and international lead in developing games for health.”

What are the digital opportunities for our region?

“We have an opportunity to work with the community to develop healthcare-based games to address the big issues that our community faces. For example, there are high rates of mental and physical health issues in the region’s younger and older age groups,” Prof Smith said.

“Within a small regional area we have groups of people who we can work with in close collaboration to develop these games that meet their needs. That’s one of the exciting things about the Sunshine Coast – we don’t see this opportunity in other parts of Australia, where we have rich concentrations of different community groups that have significant needs and a clustering of technology companies and the University of the Sunshine Coast which can address some of those needs.”

Prof Smith says another opportunity for the Sunshine Coast is to package education and training materials and programs for emerging and established economies like China which are experiencing massive socio-demographic changes through its ageing society.

“Now that we’re building the new Smart City in Maroochydore, we have the perfect opportunity to start trialling 22nd Century innovations right now and how we use zero-emission electric vehicles to get people around.” 

“The traditional notion of ageing in China is completely disrupted, so they’re looking to other parts of the world to figure out how to deal with this issue of an ageing society. Australia is a strong leader in thinking about aged services delivery; and we can focus attention on the Sunshine Coast about how a region addresses regional problems that have global impact.”

What other digital technology innovations can impact the Sunshine Coast?

  • Electric battery / motor technology:

“Imagine if we had an entire network or infrastructure where electric vehicles could be charged as they’re driving along road surfaces. There is a lot of work going into building road surfaces that can harvest solar energy, store it and re-charge batteries through inductive charging.

“Now that we’re building the new Smart City in Maroochydore, we have the perfect opportunity to start trialling 22nd Century innovations right now and how we use zero-emission electric vehicles to get people around,” Prof Smith said.

  • Electric bicycles:

“This will transform how we think about cycling behaviour. Many people don’t cycle because they don’t want to get to work hot and sweaty, because there’s a hill to get up or a headwind; with an electric bike, the motor levels out the hills and takes away the headwind. This is interesting new technology that we can start to explore its impact on how we think about moving between places.”

Photo courtesy of the University of the Sunshine Coast.