WPI student hacks video game to help stroke patients rehab

“Soda Drinker Pro” is a small indie video game that lets you walk around and drink soda. You can drink soda on a beach or drink soda in a park. That’s about it. However, it’s become a cult hit on PC, with a version set to be released on the Xbox One in the next few months. It’s also simple enough that it’s now being used by Myomo, a Cambridge-based startup that is helping people with partly paralyzed or weakened arms to regain movement in their limbs.

And it all started when Will Brierly and Sean Halloran met over soda at the Cambridge Innovation Center.

Brierly, the developer behind “Soda Drinker Pro,” had begun selling “bonus sodas,” actual drinks that went along with the game, and Halloran wanted to buy a case. They emailed each other, and found out that they worked in the same building. After a short discussion, they realized that their interests overlapped, and the game could have other uses besides entertainment.

Halloran is a 21-year-old Worcester Polytechnic Institute student whose research has focused on how games can motivate and train people to establish better health habits. Lately, he’s been making games for the MyoPro, a battery-powered brace that helps train patients who have lost movement in their arms, such as if they’re recovering from a stroke. He had already helped design “Bounce,” which is similar to “Pong” and has players move a paddle. Another, called “MyoSpace,” is an asteroid-shooting game. “Soda Drinker Pro,” which only entails moving around the in-game environment and drinking soda, was a perfect fit for the brace.

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