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Making a game of physio with Swibo's Tilt

Wellington-based Swibo reckons it can change the way we undergo physiotherapy. And it's doing that by literally turning it into a game.

Benjamin Dunn’s office in Wellington isn’t the largest, or the flashiest, in the “coolest little capital in the world.” But within the white walls of a space smaller than some bedrooms, one of the biggest advancements in physiotherapy treatments in years is being developed.

“We’re all gamers,” Dunn says of his company, Swibo, and its product, Tilt. “What excites me is the breadth of uses.”

Tilt is essentially a lightweight balance training board that lets the user play games by putting their smartphone in a dock in the middle of the round board and then standing on and tilting the board. It’s like a balance board, but one which you can play games on. “I think it’s really cool to take games into a health benefit,” says Dunn.

Aside from Dunn, Lukas Stoecklein, Connor Broad and Zac Bird, are the other faces behind Tilt. They all came up with the idea at Victoria’s annual Entrepreneur Bootcamp – and Tilt is three years in the making.

One wouldn’t think a piece of rounded wood with a metal half-circle at the bottom (forming the balance part) would be that expensive, but Dunn says it used to cost hundreds of dollars to make a single Tilt board, as they had to be cut from a single piece of wood. A single board back then, he says, cost about $250 to produce. Things are slightly less expensive these days, Dunn says, with CNC cutting of wood in nearby Miramar using bamboo sourced from Auckland, and metal spinning coming from Lower Hutt. Already used by physios in Aotearoa, there’s plans to begin offering Tilt in Australia thanks to help from an Australian physiotherapy product distributor.

Tilt has three games, all of which Dunn and his team created. There’s NeoZen, a “space racer” meant to appeal to athletes and other adrenaline junkies. There’s Hexile, an “island adventure” puzzle game. And then there’s Unbearable which, as Dunn describes it, involves surviving wave after wave of attacks by zombie teddy bears.

All of the games though have a purpose: to assist with physiotherapy and to engage the body as well as the mind. Physiotherapist Vijay Vallabh – who also works with the Black Caps – says it certainly has benefits. “I found it very helpful for having an objective measure of patients balance throughout treatment rather than traditional observational analysis,” he explains. “It also gave a detailed report on when people struggled functionally/balancing with certain directions which was helpful for specialising  exercises to them to combat this.  Patients have a better adherence because the exercises are fun and invoke some self-competition in themselves to beat scores. Currently the Swibo Tilt covers many functional aspects of rehab and injury prevention, not only providing good stimulus for the ankle after injury, but also enabling the client/patient to improve balance and control and subsequently core stability, the essentials for excellent skill execution.”

He also says he’s noticed patients who use Tilt tend to follow their physiotherapy regimens more often than patients who do not use Tilt. “The Tilt marries with current technology, and allows the patient to be self-directed while having real time objective measurements, whereas prior they would do their exercises and wait until their next appointment with the provider to objectively assess improvement,” he says. “The Tilt increases engagement and compliance of the patient which leads to better outcomes.”

Dunn is quick to point out that the Wellington government has provided ample support to Swibo. “We’ve gotten a lot of free, no-strings attached help,” he explains. “There’s a good support community here.”

Indeed, thinks Wellington is the perfect place to launch a business like Swibo. “We really like Wellington. It’s a fantastic place to build a company.”

Physical location of his business aside, Dunn says the physiotherapy industry is ripe for change. “Physiotherapy is a fairly traditional industry,” he explains. “But that is changing. Gamification has a lot more potential than what we’re already seeing.”

It all goes back to that “D” word, he says – disruption. But Dunn says it might not be the best word to describe what Swibo is doing. “Disruption is often seen as a good thing,” he explains. “I don’t think it necessarily is. We’re not looking to disrupt the industry. We’re looking to empower.”

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