XOS brings motion-capture to teams

During the past decade motion capture technology has transformed the videogame industry, letting game publishers like EA Sports deliver NFL, MLB, NBA and PGA-related game titles that take life-like graphics to the next level. Actual players spend time in motion capture studios, donning suits that allow camera and computer systems to create 3D models based on their actual movements and physical attributes.

This spring XOS Technologies and Motion Reality will make those same technologies available to teams and athletes so they can be used to improve on-field performance.

“The major college programs at division one and the professional teams are both good possibilities as users,” says Jay Moore, XOS Technologies director of marketing. “And as we pair off the right subsets of features it could even be used in smaller and amateur programs.”

Suiting Up
Motion capture technology requires the athlete to wear a suit that has numerous reflective dot markers. Cameras are then placed around the subject to read the dot markers and, with the help of on-board processors data from all the cameras are sent to a computer and then rendered in realtime into a live 3D model.

The technology won’t be cheap, with initial systems expected to run into the six figures. But XOS says it is already working with some un-named teams on installing the system in practice and training facilities.

“The cost isn’t in the number of cameras,” says Albert Tsai, XOS Technologies vice president of Advanced Research & Development who adds that a system could be placed around a football practice field or basketball court. “They’re expensive relative to the cost of a normal camcorder but the real cost is the integration.”

For professional teams and schools with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake on the field the large investment could actually provide some quick payback.

There are three initial applications for the technology. The first is as a coaching solution called Skills 360. The coach can take the 3D model and use it to analyze an athletes performance against past performances and also compare them with other athletes.

“There is actually a real-life version of that in use today by professional golfers,” says Tsai. One pro, for example, had his coaches compare his swing in a slump to his earlier baseline. “The coaches were able to quickly see that his hip was dropping more than it should,” says Tsai. “Coaches know what they want to teach but this lets them illustrate that the elbow or hip is off by three degrees. That’s hard to show in a picture.”

The ART of Sport
The second application is called ART: Assessment, Rehabilitation and Training. Strength and conditioning coaches can use to get a better understanding of the athlete from an anatomical perspective. A freshman, for example, can come in as a recruit and have some basic assessments done like overhead squats or how the left and right knees bend.

“It will be possible to foresee future injuries and help teach proper strengthening techniques,” says Tsai. “And if a coach can offer that service to an athlete it can be an attractive recruiting tool.”

The last application is Play Action, a simulator for the tactical side of athletics. Coaches can create a video game patterned after the teams own playbook and game plans. With the use of virtual reality goggles the athlete can then perform in the virtual environment. A quarterback, for example, can scrimmage against digital representations of defensive players, with players becoming larger and smaller as the quarterback drops back to pass or scrambles. The advantage is players can play against actual defensive formations when other players are unavailable to scrimmage while also reducing the chance of injury.

Tsai says the immediate benefit of the system is the here and now: helping teach skills today. But a program that uses the system for five, 10 or 20 years will find themselves with a virtual goldmine of data.

“They’ll be able to quantify and identify the type of attributes that lead to success,” he says. In addition, as an athlete’s skills grow and eventually slide they can pinpoint what changes are occurring that are causing the slide because they’ll have data from earlier in their career.

“People talk about things like a shortstop’s range and today those discussions are subjective,” says Moore. “With this system you can quantify that and show that the shortstop moves at X feet per second one year and X feet per second another.

“It comes as no surprise that now, more than ever, coaches rely on technology to reinforce their instruction efficiently and effectively and to help recruit top talent, an ever-vital focus for college athletic departments,” adds Moore. “Coaches expressed their desire to engage athletes in new, exciting ways in order to bridge the gap between today’s tech savvy athletes and coaches who may not have as strong an enthusiasm for technology as their players.”

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