6 ways how motion capture will benefit sports

6 ways how sports benefits from motion capture

Motion capture technology is becoming ever more important in sports. It helps an athlete to become better, stay healthier and recover quickly from injury. We discuss 6 ways how motion capture is having an impact on sports.

Some time ago I wrote a blogpost on 10 great technologies that are likely to have a big impact on the world of sports. Obviously there are many more. One such great technology is motion capture, which is gaining traction every day. For the ones not familiar with motion capture, it is the process of recording the movement of objects or people.

More specifically to sports it is the human motion capture of an athlete. No doubt, you have seen those pictures with athletes wearing little markers over their entire body. In fact the intro picture above shows you such an athlete. The combination of these reflective markers and infrared cameras results in output that can be used for analysis of the movements of an athlete.

Also interesting to read: 10 great technologies that will change sports

Motion capture technology rapidly evolving

At the moment there are two main options as 3D sports motion capture is concerned. Firstly, there are the optical (marker) systems where infrared cameras and reflective markers capture the motion of an athlete. Watch the video below and you will get the hang of it!

The second way is capturing motion without any markers. These systems do not require athletes to wear special equipment (such as markers) for tracking. Special computer algorithms are designed to allow the system to analyze multiple streams of optical input and identify human forms, breaking them down into constituent parts for tracking. Below you can watch an interesting video of how it is being done.

Clearly the markerless systems are less intrusive but it often goes at the expense of data precision. However, in the future no doubt, this will change, particularly if different technologies are entering the arena such as machine learning (AI) and Virtual Reality.

The future of motion capture

There are several innovative technologies which will further enhance the use of motion capture. The first one that we will touch on briefly is machine learning. As you probably know machine learning teaches computer systems to make decisions from large datasets. For example with the help of machine learning and Artificial Intelligence 2D content can be transformed into 3D human motion. This is very promising and with the further evolvement of this technology higher quality output can be obtained with a lot less equipment, whilst no markers are required. It means, that the technology could become available to a much wider audience.

A second important development is the emergence of real time motion capture analysis. For sports, this may become very important as it means immediate decisions can be taken during a game based on motion capture as it happens. The video below shows you for example what real time information a baseball coach may receive from the performance of his pitcher.

Why is motion capture becoming so important?

Let me start with a metaphor first. Let’s assume you have a machine. You want it to produce as much as possible. In order to do that you have to take care that it runs smoothly without any hick ups and breakdowns. With solid maintenance and tracking, you will be able to do this. Simultaneously you also want to be able to quickly repair it in case it does breakdown. Additionally you want to have the best machine there is in town in order to be able to outperform your competitors and as such have a cost price advantage.

In fact, it is all about the performance of your assets (the best output), the protection of your assets (taking care it runs smoothly and maintain it) and the improvement of your assets (finetuning and the latest available technology).

I am the last one to compare an athlete or team with a machine or asset, but in fact this metaphor works pretty well. You want the atlete (the asset) to perform to the max. You don’t want him to get injured or depleted and in case he will, you want him or her to quickly recover. Last but not least, you want to be able to discover the best athletes/talents in town (newest technologies). Well folks, this is where motion capture is coming in.
Now you know what motion capture is and why it is becoming so important, let’s discuss 6 ways how sports is benefitting from motion capture.

Also interesting to read: 10 strong reasons why the bionic athlete is not far away

1. Motion capture can improve the individual performance of an athlete

This clearly is a function of how to improve the asset or in this case how to improve the athlete. How can an athlete perform to the max and get that extra one percent? Well, motion capture can do this. By analyzing the movements of the athlete, areas for improvement can be determined. Motion capture can determine the strengths and weaknesses of an athlete and is able to assist in adjusting their training accordingly.

Motion capture can also identify ways how the athlete can improve his technique, posture, accuracy, power, balance etc and hence improve. It is this little extra that can make the difference between winning and losing, between peak and weak performance . Imagine for example a golfer. The golfswing consists out of so many different movements that the ideal golfswing probably does not exist, particularly as the biomechanics of every golfer are different. Think of what motion capture combined with AI can do here. It’s just one of the many examples. In the video below (click link) you will find another good one. It explains how cyclists can improve using motion analysis.


Also interesting to read: the evolving modern athlete

2. Tactics, strategy and composition of a team can be improved by motion capture

If a coach has access to motion capture technology, he or she has an important tool in hands. With realtime motion capture he would be able to track player fatigue or the level of intensity of a player. This way he can adjust his strategy or replace the player. Also player formations can be analyzed or a decision can be made what play has to be made given the potential of the athletes in the field. How can you respond to tactics of the opponent etc. With the help of algorithms an entire new dimension will come to the fore.

But there is more. Imagine for example beach volleyball where the two players of a team often have different strengths and weaknesses. By analyzing those with motion capture, the ideal duo or teamcomposition can be created.

3. Motion capture is ideally suited for talent recognition

Possibly you may have seen the movie moneyball, which shows that a statistical approach to baseball can pay off big time where talent is concerned. Well, it is not only statistics which can do the job. Motion capture can help big time as well. In fact biometrics can be a very important tool in identifying talent. Motion capture can help to identify the potential of a certain athlete. His biometrics will not only identify his potential but also what he or she has to work on. In fact there are labs that can identify what sports are ideal for a certain kid given his biomechanics.

4. Motion capture is very useful for determining the risk of injuries and player fatigue

One of the most important application of motion capture in sports can be found in the prevention of injuries. For the player, athlete or team, it is very important to stay active and healthy and avoid injuries. This not only lengthens careers, it also preserves the capital on the field for a clubowner.

With the use of motion capture technology, it is a lot easier for doctors, physicians and physiotherapists to detect when a player is using his muscles in the wrong way, when his movements are showing levels of fatigue or when there is a lack of symmetry in motion, muscle strength, flexibility, and mechanics between both sides of the body. These are all significant risks of an athlete getting injured. Active monitoring is therefore important. This way, tailor made programs and training schedules can be made in order to reduce the risk of injury. In fact the video (see link) below covers it quite well.

5. Rehabilitation and recovery of an athlete can be aided by motion capture technology

Motion capture can also be extremely effective when an athlete is rehabilitating from an injury. Analysing body motion data does not only result in improved accuracy, it also will lead to better assess the risks of re-injury and how to avoid this (how to properly use your muscles etc). Moreover with these data, is will also be easier to determine injury recovery time. As such this is not only useful for athletes but also for ordinary patients.

6. Motion capture plays important role in gamification

I am sure you have played yourself or watched someone else playing FIFA 2020 or whatever other version of it. Well, without motion capture, this experience would have been entirely different as this technology plays an important role during the development of such a game. It makes it much more realistic and more and more resembles the real thing. Watch for example this trailer with Christiano Ronaldo, which by the way took this recording more serious than you ever would imagine, not holding back a second.

But there is more. The example above is all about sitting in your chair and play a game. Let’s get you youngsters out of that chair and become active. What about if you can play the real active game at home making use of motion capture technology. As I discussed in earlier blogs on virtual sports, there are quite a few ways how you can do sports in an interactive virtual way. So far motion technology has not played a prominent role in such games as of yet. However, it will do so in the future.

Tennis eSports is a very promising start up where virtual reality, motion learning and real time tracking are being utilised in order to create a new category of digital training & Esports. With these technologies you will be able to play and practice tennis in your living room and participate in tournaments whereever in the world. Movements are transferred from real life to virtual reality, motion learning and real time tracking. The motion capture system provides visual feedback for analyzing the athlete’s performance and accuracy.

In the future it gets even better as haptic feedback will be added making the experience even more real. Grab your gear and join the fun! See the video below. It’s in Geman, I know, but you will understand the dynamics.

Well, that’s it for now. With the help of other technologies motion capture will continue to play an important role in the future of sports as you may conclude. If you have anything to add, feel free to drop a comment or send me a personal mail. Stay safe!

Published by Jan Kees Mons

I am Jan Kees Mons. Just call me JK, that’s easier I guess. I am a Dutchman living in the heart of the city of Amsterdam. Right now I am living on my own. However, not for much longer, as I plan to live together with my lovely girlfriend.