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Lights, CAMERA, action!

How our researchers are using motion capture to improve sporting performance.

When it comes to skeleton, the first few seconds are your one critical opportunity to gain momentum. But where do you practise for an ice-based sport in a mild climate like Britain’s? Here at Bath, we’re home to the UK’s only push-start track, which turns 20 this year – as well as researchers working on innovative ways of measuring these dynamic bursts of sprinting.

A new approach

Taking mo-cap out of the studio.

Skeleton athlete pushing a sled

Traditional motion capture may conjure up visions of Lycra suits and green screens, but a team from our Centre for the Analysis of Motion, Entertainment Research and Applications (CAMERA) have developed a new, non-invasive technique that can be applied to real-world training environments. This could offer coaches detailed insight into how their athletes are performing, in a sport where even a few milliseconds can make the difference between podium positions.

“Our latest system allows us to break out of the laboratory and take biomechanics into the wild,” says Dr Laurie Needham, a research fellow at Bath’s Department for Health. “We now have a tool for coaches to monitor technique where traditional motion capture approaches may not be applicable.”

In addition to their partnership with British Skeleton, CAMERA researchers are working on projects to create assistive technology for people with disabilities, improve prosthetics and measure physical function.

Camera angles

Our researchers' mo-cap method, step by step.

Through the lens

A set of 24 carefully calibrated cameras were used to capture a squad of 12 GB Skeleton athletes as they each completed three maximum-effort runs of the push-start track.

On your mark

Each athlete was fitted with a full-body set of motion capture markers, as well as a further four markers on the sled. These were tracked by the cameras to provide data on their movement.

Starting strong

The data was analysed using machine learning to provide computerised models of the athletes in motion (see video below). These can provide insight into technique elements such as step length and frequency, ground contact time and centre of mass

The science behind skeleton

Watch Dr Laurie Needham's talk from the ISBS 2020 conference.

Your impact on sport at Bath

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This article was written by Emma Senior for BA2 Issue 30, published in September 2022. Photo: Dr Cat Shin.