Bodysuit may help researchers to improve sporting activities

A bodysuit is helping researchers at Sunderland University to develop improvements in a range of sporting activities.

The £50,000 suit, which has previously been used as a tool by film makers and the military, is a 3D human kinematic camera-less measurement system that can communicate wirelessly with a computer.

The suit is being used at Sunderland for a range of research projects by both lecturers and students in areas such as biomechanics, sports science and rehabilitation.

In the field of biomechanics, the system could enable the detailed analysis of a person’s moving body parts in order to identify ways of improving overall physical performance.

The system generates an on-screen avatar, which represents the person wearing the Xsens MNV Biomech suit.

Dr Robert Hogg, a biomechanics expert from Sunderland University, told The Engineer: ‘3D motion-capture has historically been done with video systems. This technology is different because it uses… MEMS [microelectromechanical systems] sensors.’

Each of the 17 sensors on the suit consists of an accelerometer, a magnetometer and a gyroscope. Together they measure acceleration, postural position relative to the magnetic field of the Earth and orientation.

‘Essentially the sensors are looking at their relative displacement in 3D space, but also relative to one another,’ explained Hogg.

The sensors are joined together in a chain and they also feed into two data pods that are placed on the user’s back. Data is transmitted wirelessly from the pods to the main computer basestation.

Hogg said that the main advantage of this particular suit is that it’s not tied down to the lab and can therefore be used in a range of sporting environments.

Anne Bondi, a PhD student of Hoggs’, is using the technology to research saddle design and its link to the welfare, safety and performance of professional horse riders.

‘Now obviously that would very difficult to do in the lab unless you have a huge lab where you can have a horse,’ said Hogg.

The university is keen to work with both the public sector and private companies who may wish to utilise the suit for their own research projects.