Xsens 3D body tracking

Xsens bids to make 3D body tracking ubiquitous

3D-motion-tracking technology developed for nuclear missiles and Hollywood movies could revolutionise sports, healthcare and gaming, according to Dutch researchers.

Motion-tracking developer Xsens has built the world's first wearable wireless 3D body-motion-tracking system based on consumer-grade sensors, the company's CTO Per Slyke said. It will demonstrate the rig next week at Electronica 2012 in Munich, in association with sensor developer STMicroelectronics.

Slyke said that the Xsens 3D-motion-capture technology used for films such as 'Iron Man 2' and 'X-Men' used expensive high-grade sensors descended from those originally developed to control missiles. However,  by using advanced software to continuously recalibrate the sensors, Xsens has been able to build a similar rig using the much cheaper sensors – miniature accelerometers and gyroscopes – that typically go into smartphones.

“This is the world's first demo of something like this using these small, low-cost sensors,” Slyke said. “It enables the development of apps that can recognise and classify complex motions such as sports techniques by digitising your exact movements.”

He added that the basic technology is already well proven in several areas, including heathcare, sports science and, of course, gaming.

Slyke acknowledged that for some users, something like Microsoft's Kinect might be preferable to having to strap on sensors. He pointed out though that the Kinect approach only works as long as you stay in front of the device.

“The demo is 15 sensors in a full-body rig, but we can also work with just three or four sensors, which might be fine for some applications,” he continued, adding that the Xsens technology can also scavenge signals from existing sensors in mobile devices and smart clothing.

Slyke noted that ABI Research, a market analyst, predicts that over the next five years, the total market for wearable wireless devices in sports and healthcare will grow to 169 and a half million devices in 2017, up from 20.77 million in 2011.

“Our demo is meant to trigger discussions with software companies, large electronics companies, sports brands and so on,” he said. “There is a huge interest in accessories for smartphones such as heart-rate monitors, and a definite trend towards wearable sensors – it's the 'smart body' concept.”

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