Panasonic has developed an interactive rehabilitation device to help patients train by themselves. The Digital Mirror has been showcased at expos in both September 2010 and April 2011, and is set for mass production and release within this fiscal year.

It is a full-length 42-inch mirror that doubles up as a screen, showing the reflection of the person standing in front of it, as well as that of a virtual “trainer.” The idea is that the patient/user follows the exercises and actions of the trainer demo, and thus participates in a physical workout beneficial to their health and rehabilitation. There could be workouts involving training equipment or standalone exercise, as per the patient’s needs and goals.

The Digital Mirror is fitted with three sensors, including Panasonic’s D-Imager distance sensor that the maker has been developing for several years. These can monitor the patient and check their progress. A CCD camera captures the movements of the user and displays it on the LCD screen.

Demonstrations have so far been limited but there is no reason not to presume that feedback could be immediate: The “trainer,” just like a real person, can adjust according to the progress of the patient, what they are doing well and what they cannot do. The screen can then display performance statistics and advice, and likely other sensors can be installed to even simultaneously monitor heartbeat, body temperature and so on. This data could be stored per user over multiple sessions so improvements and progress can be seen by medical supervisors and the patient.

Ideally, the user navigates through the screen controls via gesture-controlled menus. However, since many of the intended users may well be the elderly, infirm or disabled, a carer or nurse will likely need to be on site to set up the exercises.

Panasonic is developing its own software to go with the Digital Mirror, including different programs for different stages of rehabilitation. They expect to offer larger mirrors for care homes, hospitals, gyms, and so on, but smaller models may be produced for individual consumers to use at home. On the other hand, bigger mirrors will benefit sports centers and schools, where multiple users could watch and experience a sports or yoga demo.

Though the Wii and Kinect systems have aimed to corner this kind of entertainment and home lifestyle technology, there is also potential for the Digital Mirror in gaming, especially with its intuitive interface. It is further possible for it to be applied to the beauty and cosmetics industry too, offering a consumer tips and lessons on how to put on make-up, create a certain “look,” or prepare their hair according to a style.

The exact details of commercialization are yet to be announced, but generic training programs will surely be part of the final package or system. However, content and functionality customized to each facility and patient needs will greatly enhance the potential that the Digital Mirror will have, moving a device one step on from being a tool to becoming a full ersatz trainer.