I was excited to unwrap the Valedo sensors. Physiotherapy is a vital part of my day and as someone plagued with back pain, struggling with core stability and muscular control, I was hopeful that the Valedo would help me improve with a program of exercises I can follow on the iPad whilst the sensors that temporarily stick to the lower back and sternum would provide feedback. I put the sensors on, calibrated them in the app and was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was not a fitness app, but an interactive game where the sensors and my body was the controller.
The game is simple. My little robot was controlled with specific movements and I had to follow another robot in front of me on the trail he left. The trail curved left and right, up and down, twisted and wound its way through ocean floors, desert valleys and other background terrains. Obstacles were quite close to the trail, like exploding bombs, hit them and lose points. The movement component changed depending on the exercise selected at the start. It started simple then worked up to some combinations of bending, turning and twisting whilst standing, sitting or kneeling (four point kneeling) on the floor.
Exercises are gradually unlocked and the app keeps track of all personal analytics. There is the option to set specific target goals around how long I wanted to exercise each session and how many session a week did I want to commit to and send push notifications to an iOS device. The application is easy to use and makes back exercises that are often tedious more fun and less work.
The App on iOS and Android
The app consists out of a rotational menu with houses you can build up. The basic premise is that each exercise group has three houses – one for left-right movement, one for forward-backward movement and the last for a combination exercise of both. It starts with only one basic exercise unlocked and as exercises are completed, more unlock. Stretches are unlocked after 10 minutes of exercise within each session. They do not form part of the game, but can be done with video instruction in between.
An exercise program with goals and push notifications can also be set-up. It is a great idea, but I have an Android smartphone and only use my iPad for games and entertainment and as such did not receive the push notifications in a timely way. It really would work well for anyone who use and checks their iOS notification, but is less useful for Android phone users. Update: The Android App is now available which solved this small issue for me.
There are two sensors. Once is placed on your lower back and the other on your sternum. Each sensor has a 3-axis magnetometer, a 3-axis gyroscope and a 3-axis accelerometer. They record small changes in orientation angles and the acceleration of the body part attached to and then transmit this information via Bluetooth low energy (LE).
Except for a minor hiccup with the four point floor exercises where one of the sensors didn’t want to register, I found the sensors easy to use and very precise. I also found the addition of the sensors invaluable. The feedback they provide made me feel confident and comfortable that I was doing the right thing. It helped improve my proprioception, precision and control when moving and made a significant difference in how well I was able to carry out the exercises.
There are 17 movements within that 45 exercises carried out whilst standing, sitting or four point kneeling. Only one is available at the start and as exercises are completed, more are unlocked. The advantage of gradually unlocking more exercises is that users start at an appropriately low level and gradually build up to more complicated exercises once they have mastered the previous. It is a little frustrating for anyone who have a personal preference for a particular type, are unable to carry out exercises in a particular position or for a physiotherapist who might want to select the exercises themselves. I would have appreciated the option to unlock all exercises immediately.
The exercises are superb. Designed by a team of medical experts and based around proven lower back therapeutic movements, I found them exceptionally helpful. The movements carried out is done so with control, precision and thought with the aim to increase awareness, strength and mobility of muscles within and around the lower back.
Hocoma is a Swiss based medical technology company founded in 1996 who specializes in the development, manufacturing and marketing of robotic and sensor based devices for functional movement therapy.
Retailer: Hocoma official site
Included In The Box
- 2 sensors with low-energy Bluetooth Smart Technology
- 100 medical attachment tapes
- 1 USB charging cable
- User manual
- Quick reference guide
- Portable case
Operating System: Android and iOS (iPad 3rd Generation or higher, iPad Mini, iPhone 5 or higher).
Software: Minimum iOS 6.1. iOS 7.1 and higher recommended. Android device running 4.4 or higher and must support Bluetooth Low Energy.
Wi-Fi: 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4 & 5 GHz) capable
Bluetooth: Bluetooth Low Energy (LE)
Valedo designed it for those experiencing non-specific back pain. Non-specific back pain means that the cause of the pain is not due to an underlying structural problem. It is a common condition that most people will experience at some point in their lives, particularly in their thirties and forties and it is a growing chronic pain condition for teens and young adults. Exercise therapy is one of the most widely used treatments for chronic non-specific back pain in particular.
I think it could also be great to improving proprioception, core muscle stability and muscular control, even if you don’t have back pain, and as an introductory program for anyone who haven’t exercised in a while. The exercises are targeted and could also be useful for those who experience widespread pain and persistent fatigue seen in conditions like EDS/Joint Hypermobility Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/M.E. and Fibromyalgia.
It works exceptionally well in an office environment, provided there is access to appropriate space and I have been using during screen and activity breaks, although I soon gave up micro-sessions for 2 or 5 minutes because it took longer to set-up and tape the sensors in place than it did to complete a 2-minute exercise. Ten to fifteen minute sessions were ideal length for me – long enough to get me into the right mindset, but not so long that I was struggling to find the time for it.
The Valedo sensors are well-made, durable and low maintenance and only the medical tape used to stick on the sensors are disposable. Its use within a therapeutic setting has the added advantage of creating a paperless digital system to replace conventional therapeutic exercise print-outs and reports.
Ease of Use
The sensors are easy to active, calibrate, use and store. I found the app to be clear and concise as it walked me through the initial set-up and calibration. There are awards and achievements, but these are presented with praise and stars as well, not just statistics.
For those interested in personal metrics, there is in-depth information available about each session and four different user profiles can be created for each set of sensors. It also tracks your improvement and skill.
An iOS (running iOS 6.1, 7.1 or higher) or Android (4.4 or higher) device that supports Bluetooth Low Energy. If you want to connect to a TV an Apple TV set top box is needed.
The Valedo App and exercise program uses visual feedback and would not be accessible for blind users, but it is accessible for anyone with a visual impairment or photophobia (light sensitivity). The case has a high visibility zip and the white sensors and cable are set against a black interior. The tape strips are white inside a black box. The single button on the device is easy to locate through touch and it has a darker ring around it that flashes when the sensors are connecting and lights up when the sensors are active.
The text used in the App is large and against a high contrast background and audio cues accompany visual cues. There are some maps where the contrast is low, like in the desert, see image below, where the trail I had to follow was virtually the same colour as the background and in some instances the camera angle shifts to the side which made it hard for me to tell where exactly the trail was in a simulated three-dimensional space. Some visual effects are bright, particularly when targets are hit in quick succession, but I did not find this to be a problem unless I tried to play with a migraine that caused severe photophobia.
It is highly accessible to anyone with a hearing impairment, including deaf users or those who experience tinnitus or hyperacusis (sensitivity to sound). Audio cues are always accompanied with a visual counterpart. The sound effects is helpful when playing with a significant visual impairment, but otherwise an added extra. The sensors emit no sound.
Input and Touch
The Valedo sensors are easy to apply. The case opens with a tip that has a grippy bright orange tag and are kidney-shaped, making them easier to hold. The tape strips have a tag at the top which makes peeling the stickers off accessible and the back of the sensor is a smooth grey and requires only a small amount of precision for the tape to stick.
The exercises are focused on core stability and require no hand or arm movements. One of the stances is four point kneeling which could be difficult or inappropriate for anyone with arm, hand or wrist issues or impairments. The app is accessed with tapping and swiping. There are no multi-presses or complicated gestures.
I think it is accessible to most, requiring little strength or precision, having no timed elements or endurance thresholds and the bulk of exercises uses the movement of your body – twisting, turning and moving forwards and backwards as input.
The app is accessed with tapping and swiping. There are no multi-presses or complicated gestures.
Movement and mobility
There are three exercise positions – standing, sitting and four point kneeling. Those unable to stand, kneel or sit upright will not be able to make use of the sensors and exercise program. It is accessible to anyone with restricted mobility as the sensors are calibrated to your personal range of movement. There is no requirement to remain in any position for a long time. Exercise length range from 2 – 6 minutes, selected by the users. I found it useful to switch positions after each exercise and rotating from standing to sitting to kneeling to sitting instead of trying to spend a long time standing or kneeling. I also lengthened the duration of sitting exercise, whilst keeping the four point kneeling exercises at 2 minutes.
Motion sickness and balance disorders
The Valedo is accessible to anyone with motion sickness or a balance disorder, except in severe cases. There are no head movements, which could cause dizziness. Although the game is simulated flying, because the robot on the screen is following a linear track, I did not experience any motion (simulation) sickness at any point.
There is no requirement for math, but basic reading skills and language comprehension is needed for set-up. Once the sensors are calibrated and connected, the main menu and all the exercises can be played without any literary skills.
No social interaction is required, however it is possible to connect to Facebook and share goals and results. In a therapeutic environment, Valedo does not pass your data on to a third party. It has a feature for the user to generate and export reports to share with their physiotherapist or other medical professional.
The Valedo sensors are encased in plastic and medical tape is used to stick it onto the skin. No common allergens are used in the product, but the surgical tape is quite strong, it has to be to keep the sensors in place during activity, so be careful with removal of the tape if you have sensitive and thin skin.
Trigger warnings & age ratings
The exercises are suitable for all ages with no mature content. The Apps are rated PEGI 3.
I now live in an era where strapping sensors to my body that connect to my smartphone, tablet or TV feels like an every day kind of thing and as such I had high expectations for the accuracy, efficacy and entertainment value of the Valedo kit. I found the sensors easy to use, the application is fun and the game, although simple and not comparable to ‘real games’, are far ahead from most applications that attempt to gamify exercise. It felt natural to use and except for minor issues getting the sensors to calibrate correctly for the four point kneeling exercises, it worked seamlessly each time.
It is an excellent tool that makes it significantly easier to know that therapeutic exercises are done correctly and the personal metrics it collects and displays works great as an incentive. I would have appreciated more variety in the game environment – although the background changes when moving between different target areas, the basic concept remains exactly the same – follow the robot – and after hours of following the robot, I was getting a little tired of the task.
The Valedo tries to make tedious therapeutic exercises easier to carry out correctly and more fun to do, thereby increasing the likelihood that the program will not be abandoned. It succeeds at both. I would recommend it to those interested in improving core stability or are at a high risk for developing back pain due to environmental circumstances, like spending much of the day sitting down. I would highly recommend it to anyone who experiences persistent non-specific back pain.
The review is based on the Valedo sensors used in conjunction with an iPad Air. The sensors were kindly provided by Hocoma.
Updated on 17 June for release of Android App.