Image Credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic
Image Credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic

The virtual coach

As a physiotherapist, coach and trainer, Bruce Craven’s prescriptions depend on repetition – performing the right motions, in the right way, at the right speed until they become second nature.

“It’s a person doing a skill with purpose, then receiving feedback to tell them whether they are achieving that goal,” says Craven of Craven SPORT Services in Saskatoon. The company serves a wide range of clients, from Olympic athletes to people wanting to enjoy pain-free gardening or be able to play with their kids.

Getting an exercise prescription right takes both practice and expert guidance. That guidance can’t be available all the time, especially if the athlete or client lives out of town. What was needed was a way to pack up a physiotherapist-coach-trainer in a box to take home.

Craven brought up the idea with Dr. Susan Blum, associate vice-president of Applied Research and Innovation at Sask Polytech.

“I had an open discussion with Susan about how something could be developed,” Craven says.

In short order, he met with Sask Polytech applied research experts to get started, mapping out the project, creating a framework and applying for a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

The idea is to build a virtual coach, capable of observing and analyzing motion and providing instant feedback on what the person is doing right and what they need to refine and improve.

“It’s a user-based kinematic system that will enable the client to get real-time feedback on their prescribed exercises,” Craven says.

Such systems will be familiar to players of console-based video games, and indeed Craven explains their solution is based on similar off-the-shelf technology. He envisions the solution will be portable and used on a tablet, computer or television monitor. The project is now in a pilot stage, and he expects to recruit athletes to develop it further.

“The difference with Sask Polytech is they’re solving the problem, not just researching the problem.”

“To be honest I don’t think it could have been done without Sask Polytech,” he says. “They were the driving force behind it.”

For more information on Applied Research at Sask Polytech visit

Published September 2018.