Where Spielberg goes …

So what has 'Motion Capture' or 'Mo-Cap' ever done for you? Aside from entertaining you on the silver screen, the answer's probably 'not much,' but that could be set to change as the technology advances and the costs decrease.

To explain, thus far 'Mo-Cap' has been used by some of the more creative Hollywood studios to produce life realistic special effects, the like of which were impossible even just a few years previously – think Gollum in 'Lord of the Rings,' or Robert Zemekis' 'The Polar Express.' Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson are using a real time version of the mo-cap technique to film the 'Tintin' movie, while an increasingly ambitious computer gaming industry has also enthusiastically embraced the technology. Indeed mo-cap has found a number of applications beyond the purely graphical, including sports training, virtual reality simulations and medicine.

But this could just be the start of a veritable mo-cap revolution, because mo-cap is set to evolve, thanks to the efforts of Ramesh Rashkar, a Professor at MIT. He's developed a new system that's overcome some of the major drawbacks of the current mo-cap process, which works via the use of a special wetsuit-style sensor suit, covered with little polystyrene-style white balls attached at the joints. These sensors allow the camera to capture the refracted light, which is then used to generate the digitised image of the wearer. Trouble is, the cameras required are very expensive, the subjects have to be 'filmed' against a special background and this precludes using the technique in broad daylight.

Instead, Rashkar has developed a system called 'Second Skin,' which is described as a wearable fabric. It is said to take the process further than existing mo-cap techniques, allowing for the swift, accurate location and bio-parameter tracking of the wearer – accurate to one millimetre. The suit then computes and predicts 3D representations of the body, using a closed loop system to enable human performance to be measured, analysed and controlled.

Cleverly Rashkar and his team at MIT have ripped up the mo-cap rulebook by developing photosensors that detect the position of a projected infra-red light hundreds of times a second, then feed that information back to a computer via off the shelf Bluetooth technology. Film directors will love Rashkar's mo-cap because it allows daylight filming, whilst high-tech SME's should be equally pleased, as a complete mo-cap 'studio' can be built for a couple of thousand euros.

It's the latter where mo-cap could really start to make a difference to people's lives, as affordable systems like 'Second Skin' find their use in a variety of situations: virtually any ergonomic problem could benefit from its input. For medicine, the implications could be extraordinary. And can you imagine a 'Guitar Hero' style game with a full mo-cap interface? Analog/digital interfaces won't get much more fun than that …

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