The Next Generation: What concepts should drive the design of tomorrow’s biomechanics software?
In our inaugural blog I thought it would be worthwhile to share some of the things you have been telling us regarding the state of motion capture. During the 24 years that we have been providing software solutions to the research community you have shared your opinions on what works, what doesn’t and what functionality you would like to see in the years ahead. Here are some of the things we have heard:
Real Time One request that you have raised often is the desire to see live data and skeletal animations streaming during data collection. There are so many benefits to this: the ability to quality check while data is collected, the ability to give biofeedback; and the simple “wow” factor that gets subjects, patients, and athletes excited about being part of a data collection. The MotionMonitor Classic has always been able to do this but in a more limited way. And we were not alone, many companies say they are “real-time” but they rarely mean that data is instantaneous. Eddie Cramp put it well in a recent post on Biomch-L: “Some manufacturers will say the real-time means data within ten seconds, some have delays of less than one second, and others will provide the data with 0.01 of a second (10ms) - but they all all say that their system is ’real-time’". It’s not a simple problem; and as Eddie suggests, researchers should take pause and be sure they understand what their vendor means by “real time”. In our next blog, we’ll be going into detail on this topic.
Mobile Another request we often hear is the ability to collect data in the field. Mobile applications provide many benefits, as they provide solutions for common questions, like: “Do the tightly controlled experiments in the lab actually translate to the real world?” or “How do we reach patient populations that cannot make it to the lab?” But there are many challenges to making mobile a reality. The equipment has to work in a variety of settings, and of course, you are always concerned about the time it takes to setup hardware and instrument subjects. A lot of folks in the business have tried to make their systems “mobile”. The optical providers have successfully achieved data collection outdoors, but management of sun-light and setup time still remains a real challenge. And the proliferation of IMU’s and special purpose apps run on iPhones have made it easier to setup and go, but at a sacrifice of informational content and data accuracy. We believe true mobile for research is not a simple problem, but one that must be addressed from the ground up.
Hybrid Only a few clients have actually said, “We need a ‘hybrid system.’” But lots of you have said, “I wish I could have the unique advantages that each technology offers in one package.” While it is not possible to have them in one hardware package, it is possible to combine different technologies via software, so that a subject can be instrumented with multiple hardware systems. Common applications where combined hardware is beneficial include i) the use of IMU’s and optical systems when line of sight is a problem, ii) the use of optical systems to digitize anatomical landmarks on subjects instrumented with IMU’s, and iii) use of 6 degree of freedom electromagnetic sensors for tracking fingers while upper extremities are tracked with optical markers.
Make it More Powerful Research is always about the next question. And software has to be more powerful to help answer those questions. Integrated Muscle Modeling and advanced math and multivariate statistical operators like entropy and fractals; the ability to introduce user code to the software; and, the ability to define data and write code without being a programmer are frequent examples of things you have requested. The benefits of these are easy to see. Implementation that lends itself to continuous enhancement in functionality without major overhaul of the software has been more difficult to achieve.
Make it Simpler Often researchers, athletic trainers or ergonomist have situations where they need to study one motion or exercise repetitively. In these cases, you don’t need full body tracking or diverse data types with many choices, rather you need an application that is simple, with the ability to easily repeat data collection and analysis. We have spent a lot of time trying to reconcile this comment with the previous comment. What we have found is that to make something appear simple (we prefer “elegant”) requires power! We’ll spend a whole posting on this topic where we demonstrate that “Powerful” does not have to mean “Complicated.”
Make it More Flexible This comment is seldom expressed so directly. More frequently it is expressed in the questions our tech support people get…”How do I plot my graph vertically?”, “When locating joint centers, how can I use the functional method for the shoulder and a digitizing method for the knee?”,“Can I use my IMU’s with my camera system?”, “I want text to pop up in the animation window as a signal to the subject.”, and on and on and on. We’ve been keepin’ a list! In future posts we’ll be exploring how we have chosen to implement them in the next generation of The MotionMonitor and how these capabilities can be used. In the meantime, look at the bike fit application as an example of what this flexibility enables a researcher to do.
Support Translation of Client Research. This is a topic that has resulted in much consultation between our engineers and some of our clients. Seeing your research protocols transformed into real world solutions, such as in a clinic, workplace or sports arena, is what motivates you. And when the time comes, The MotioMonitor xGen can be a great tool to help you get there. The Manual Therapy Trainer, championed by Dr. Eric Shamus, is a fine example. We’ll highlight other examples and how they were accomplished in future posts.
Biofeedback and Understanding Human Movement. As technology advances, many of you are seeking the answers to deeper, more complex biofeedback questions. These questions require complex control feedback loops to gain a better understanding of human movement. Many of our clients are pioneers in this respect. When we founded our company, our original raison d’etre was to provide real-time feedback to subjects as a way of improving performance in various sporting activities. So, this comment is one we understand deeply.
At the same time, as clinical and athletic institutions move to embrace technology, the number of applications for biofeedback within society are rapidly expanding. There’s a demand to show data in different ways, beyond just time-series graphs, and to use these data to drive changes in behavior. To convey feedback, you want live animations; ones that you can control and design, but without the need to do your own programming. We’ve worked hard to make this possible; minimizing latency, increasing complexity and providing true flexibility, all while utilizing research-quality data for biofeedback and analysis.
This summary is the collective view of The MotionMonitor team. As such it represents our guide to changes we introduce to the software and the way we organize to provide support and training to our clients. A lot is happening at the home of The MotionMonitor. The biggest of these is the release of our latest version of software that we have dubbed The MotionMonitor xGen. Five years in the making, this is the most significant offering in our history. The ideas and questions you have raised and are summarized in this post were the guiding principles for its development. In future posts, we’ll try and share how you can use these concepts to maximum benefit.