When Anna Dai and Efrain Segarra signed up to take an entry-level computer engineering course at University of Michigan, they expected to learn about game software development.
What they did not expect was to find themselves taking gaming to a whole new level through a massive project at U-M C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Thanks to their efforts – along with the generosity of dozens of other individuals and groups – patients at Mott will now find their room equipped with an Xbox 360.
Out of the classroom, into the real world
Efrain Segarra was a freshman when he took Professor David Chesney’s course.
“Dr. Chesney calls it Gaming for the Greater Good,” says Segarra, referring to the course’s focus on developing software that can benefit children with disabilities.
Over the years, Chesney’s students have gotten involved in a wide range of projects that help people with special needs – from assistive technologies such as a system to help patients with cerebral palsy to type, to games that challenge physical therapy patients to carry out stretching and range-of-motion exercises.
When Dr. Chesney presented his students with an opportunity to do an internship with the Mott Family Network, Segarra jumped at it.
The Mott Family Network is a non-profit organization funded by the Mott Golf Classic. The Xbox 360 project was the most recent in a long line of technology-related projects the Mott Family Network has made possible at Mott. Over the years, the Mott Family Network and Mott Golf Classic have donated well over $1 million to supply Mott with computer, recreational and educational resources.
“When I started my internship, I was given the task of figuring out how we could install Xboxes in all the patient rooms,” says Segarra. “It sounded simple enough, at first.”
What Segarra soon learned was how complicated the project would be.
“Deciding what game system we would install and where we could purchase them from was one thing. Figuring out the rest was the real challenge,” says Segarra.
The planning phase included a significant amount of logistical orchestration, including preparing user manuals, establishing room-design details, working out liability issues and parental control configurations, vendor management, and creating processes for trouble-shooting.
“It took the entire summer just to plan the project, working with a whole team of experts at the hospital. We did the planning and ultimately implemented 32 test units in the summer of 2014,” says Segarra.
With the planning and test deployment wrapping up, Segarra’s internship was coming to a close – but there was plenty more work to be done. That’s where Dai, another student of Chesney’s came into the picture.
Watch and learn
After the test units were installed, Dai took over the intern responsibilities for the project in Fall 2014. “The first 32 units were in; now it was time to watch what happened.”
The “watching” period turned out to be incredibly important.
“At first we had issues with power cords. Because of where they were positioned, people were pulling on them and breaking them. We also had issues with pushing the data from the Xbox to the television across the room,” says Dai.
Dai and a network of staff, who work in IT for the health system but volunteer their time on this project, were able to trouble-shoot each problem that presented itself during the pilot phase.
It also became apparent that there would be a need for some instructional resources for families and staff. “We created instruction sheets for each patient room and placed full Xbox manuals at each nurse’s station,” says Dai.
From there, they were ready for the broader rollout.
The intern team worked with Gamer’s Outreach, a video game industry charity organization working to improve the lives of others through interactive entertainment, to purchase the Xbox systems at a steep discount using funds contributed by the Mott Golf Classic. Gamer’s Outreach also donated over 600 wireless controllers.
When Dai had to temporarily step away from the project to complete a study-abroad trip, another U-M student, Albert Yerman, filled in for the homestretch of the Xbox implementation project.
Nearly one year later, 225 patient rooms at Mott are equipped with Xbox systems.
The hospital has a library of games available for the Xboxes, many of which were donated by Microsoft. Microsoft also donated several one-month Xbox Live activation cards. Xbox Live allows patients to play video games online with friends and family at home. They can also stream movies and television shows via Xbox Live.
The Xbox 360s also work as a DVD player so kids can bring and watch their own movies, in addition to the free movies they can stream over the hospital’s in-room entertainment system, the GetWell Network.
Thanks to diligent work from the intern team and Mott Family Network volunteers, what was once estimated to cost nearly $500,000 for deployment costs, ended up only costing around $100,000 thanks to equipment donations, discounts and in-kind donations.
“When I first started, I never imagined all the tiny details that would need to be addressed. It was amazing to experience what it takes to develop a project of this magnitude, working with so many professionals from different areas at all levels of a large organization like University of Michigan Health System,” says Segarra. “Seeing all the details come together, and how excited all the children were was truly heartwarming. It was completely worth it.”
Parents and children love the new Xboxes. “There is no other time in the hospital when my son acts just like he was back home — it’s only when he’s playing on the Xbox,” one parent reported to hospital staff.
For the U-M interns and the other volunteers involved in the endeavor, there is no doubt of the impact the project is having for kids and families at the hospital.
“It’s been a great experience and I love to see the joy on the patients’ faces when they have the chance to get immersed in their games, even if just for a while,” says Dai.
C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital would like to thank the Mott Golf Classic for their generous financial support that made the Xbox 360 project possible. We would also like to recognize Efrain Segarra, Anna Dai and Albert Yerman, the interns primarily responsible for coordinating the Xbox 360 program start-up, as well as Nathan Haley, Kalpesh Unadkat and Eric Wolf, MCIT engineers who provided valuable help in providing security and engineering support, and Matt Plave for coordinating installation. In addition, we’d like to thank all the staff who contributed countless hours to the program’s success, including representatives from nursing, MCIT, biomed, child life, the GetWell Network, hospital administration, community relations and construction services.
Take the next steps:
- Support the Mott Family Network and Mott Golf Classic.
- Learn about University of Michigan Engineering’s Gaming for the Greater Good.
University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.