Hollywood Motion Capture Technology used for Healthcare Research at Kent

The School of Engineering and Digital Arts (EDA) at the University of Kent has purchased a motion capture system to help develop body-worn devices for wireless remote health care systems.

A similar motion capture system was recently used in the making of James Cameron’s Avatar.

The project, which is a collaboration between the University of Kent, Great Ormond Street Hospital and the University of Sheffield, will combine expertise from the School’s communication engineering and computer animation departments and will be led by Dr John Batchelor, Senior Lecturer in Electronic Engineering.

The purchase of the VICON infrared motion capture system was made possible by Dr Batchelor’s £500,000 grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The grant has also enabled the School to purchase a 3D laser scanner that can provide a 3D image of an entire person in a few seconds. Known as the Anthroscan, this scanner is one of only two in the UK.

Dr Batchelor, an expert on body-worn devices and antennas, explained that the new equipment will be used to measure the precise movement of people wearing wireless devices such as medical sensors, mobile computers and pedometers. The data acquired from this measurement will then be used to animate 3D scans of their bodies. It is these ‘avatars’, or computer-animated characters, that will allow the team to analyse how radio waves ‘creep’ around the body and from this ascertain the implications for power and battery management on wireless devices.

Dr Batchelor’s inspiration for this project stems from the experiences of children in hospital wards. He said: ‘Currently, children undergoing lengthy observations in hospitals may be ‘tethered’ by cables and wires for long periods. When I heard about this, I thought that there had to be a way to free them and other patients from their attachment to machines. By extension, new methods must also now be found to allow ill and ageing people to stay in their own homes, where many of them would prefer to be.’

The computer animation expertise in EDA has proved to be of significant benefit for this project. ‘We are probably unique in that we have engineers working alongside experienced digital animators and I believe this work really brings us together,’ Dr Batchelor said. ‘For example, my colleague David Byers-Brown, who worked for Industrial Light Magic in California, has been demonstrating to us what we can achieve with professional computer animation of our test subjects.’

David-Byers Brown, Lecturer in Multimedia Technology and Design, added: ‘It is fantastic that our Master’s students studying Computer Graphics now have motion capture available to use which, along with our superb green screen studio, means that we have the major production tools used in the most up-to-date big budget effects movies like Avatar – which some of our graduates worked on.’

It is expected that Dr Batchelor’s research will contribute to the development of future ‘Body Area Networks’ for computers as opposed to the current and more familiar Local Area Networks.