UND’s State-of-the-art, motion-capturing lab teems with experiential learning, cross-campus collaboration

UND’s State-of-the-art, motion-capturing lab teems with experiential learning, cross-campus collaboration

Holding a hockey puck with two infrared-reflecting markers, Associate Professor of Kinesiology Jesse Rhoades provided explanations and demonstrations of the BiPed Lab’s technology during an open house for the lab’s new location at the Clinical Education Center. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

The new location for the College of Education & Human Development’s BiPed Lab was christened in true UND fashion – with a slap shot.

“Ready… Go!” barked Gabe Kavadas, a graduate student manning the lab’s new motion-capturing system, to the hockey-stick-wielding student volunteer. Then as administrators, faculty and students watched, the lab’s Vicon software outlined the hockey stick’s movement in a series of dots, cast against a grid pattern representing the floor of the collection room. The puck showed up as a separate pair of dots on the large TV used as a computer monitor.

WHACK! A sharp, unmistakable slap rang out, and the puck rocketed into the net, which — fortunately for the system’s cameras, which cost $3,000-$5,000 apiece — the lab had set up only three feet away. Kavadas replayed the action on the monitor moments later, showing the path of the stick as it swung and demonstrating the lab’s instantaneous ability to analyze movements, velocities and impacts.

At the BiPed Lab’s open house on Wednesday, Kavadas and Associate Professor of Kinesiology Jesse Rhoades were able to show off the 18-camera array that had been installed over the summer. The set-up had been moved from the third floor of the Hyslop Sports Center, where it had been since its inception.

The new location in the basement of the Clinical Education Center provides a range of advantages in comparison to the Hyslop, starting with being much closer to the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences. The move also accelerates a partnership between kinesiology and physical therapy.

In an all-black collection room, where infrared-sensing cameras can capture nearly all angles of a subject’s movement, Rhoades described that kinesiology-PT partnership as well as the new location’s advantages.

Gabe Kavadas (left) and Brooke Pasanen managed the Vicon software system for the open house’s demonstrations, serving as its own demonstration of the way students are learning in a world-class, high-tech setting. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Hollywood tech, scientific applications

What Rhoades and the Department of Education, Health & Behavior Studies have developed over the past few years can be compared to the systems developing the ultra-realistic, computer-generated characters seen in blockbuster movies and video games – just on a smaller scale.

“It’s the visual aspect they’re trying to get,” Rhoades said of Hollywood’s use of systems such as Vicon. “Everything underlying those models has real data in there, and that’s what we’re trying to extract in the lab.”

Assigning as many as 35 markers along the anatomical landmarks of a human body, the BiPed Lab is capable of measuring the velocities and accelerations of body parts. For instance, how fast does the lead hand travel during the slap shot? How fast do your hips turn in that same action? Rhoades also pointed out that it’s possible to track not only the speed of marked objects but also their movement. On the puck, for example, the two markers let observers determine the puck’s rotational speed as the object flew into the net.

Holding a softball with six markers magnetically attached, Rhoades was able to describe how assigning the individual points lets observers trace the rotation and speed of that and other objects in the BiPed Lab. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

World-class lab

Combining biomechanics and pedagogy, the BiPed Lab researches human movement and the best way to teach students about that topic.

“There aren’t a lot of labs in the country doing the research we’re doing, in the way we’re doing it,” said Rhoades, who has a background in biomechanics and a doctorate in pedagogical kinesiology. “Pedagogy tends to be a very qualitative field, whereas we’re much more quantitative in our lab.”

Breaking it down in percentages, Rhoades explained that 55 percent of the lab’s usage is in teaching students how to use the top-of-the-line Vicon system. At the Hyslop, he had multiple classes learning how to operate the equipment, extract data, collect data and analyze it.

Brooke Pasanen, who’s starting her master’s program in kinesiology this semester, worked alongside Kavadas as they ran tests for the open house demonstration. Before the novel hockey stick “test,” the two captured student volunteer Abbie Brockhouse as she walked, ran and jumped in the lab’s collection space.

Abbie Brockhouse (center) and fellow student volunteers were all smiles after demonstrations went smoothly at Wednesday’s open house. Brockhouse walked, ran and jumped in the collection area to show how body movements are captured in the lab. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

“Subjects [such as Brockhouse] have markers on them,” said Pasanen. “What those markers do is directly reflect infrared light from the cameras, sending it through to this software system.

“What we’re doing through Vicon is plotting those markers and pulling data so we can show everyone the velocities or accelerations, depending on what the subjects are doing.”

With all eyes of the audience upon them, Kavadas and Pasanen went through the plotting process multiple times with multiple subjects, including a softball spiked with six markers. The session also served as a demonstration of Rhoades’ mission: creating a world-class learning experience for UND’s students.

“What I think is exciting is that it’s combining great research experience and learning experiences for students with some relevant applications,” said Cindy Juntunen, dean of the College of Education & Human Development, with everything from UND Athletics to helping people with disabilities in mind.

With prior research examples on display, showing the possibilities of cross-campus collaborations, Juntunen was delighted throughout the open house demonstrations.

“My guess is that most people would be surprised to know that you could find a lab like this on campus,” she said.

Cindy Juntunen, Dean of the College of Education & Human Development, saw many potentials for the lab through Rhoades and his team’s display. She said it’s an excellent avenue by which to meet educational and research goals at UND. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Joining forces

Kavadas, in his second semester of the kinesiology graduate program, talked about the advantages of the new location.

“The Hyslop wasn’t optimal for the Vicon system,” he said. During the winter months, especially, the building’s physical fluctuations would call for recalibrating the camera setup. During the summer, the heat was hard on the equipment.

“Here we’re more secure, with a better foundation,” said Kavadas as he tapped his foot on the concrete below. “There’s that extra tick of viability for the system. The location is an improvement overall.”

Rhoades said the square footage hasn’t changed much, but he’s been able to transform what was once a storage space for the Clinical Education Center into precisely what he wanted for both data collection and observation/processing spaces. This, in turn, creates better results for the other 45 percent of the lab’s usage: research.

“It’s a prime location between Kinesiology and the School of Medicine & Health Sciences,” Rhoades said, alluding to the partnership that catalyzed the new iteration of the BiPed Lab.

Before the creation of the new SMHS building, the Department of Physical Therapy was running its own Vicon system. Since then, the eight-camera system hasn’t been in use. Rhoades knew combining forces — creating an 18-camera system — could make data collected in the lab more precise.

“We realized it would be mutually beneficial to combine labs,” Rhoades said. “We’d be able to lend each other’s expertise, and PT students could be there any time they need.”

Physical Therapy is also able to integrate their electromyography system into the motion-capture setup. Electromyography, better known as EMG, can track the actions of muscles. Rhoades was previously trying to accomplish this with a system that wasn’t compatible with the Vicon.

“That’s going to be a major change for us,” Rhoades said. “And it’s going to allow for our students to see how EMG integrates – on this very different form of analysis – into motion capture.”

Associate Professor of Physical Therapy Gary Schindler (right) spoke to the open house audience about the studies he’s conducted in the BiPed Lab over the past two years, which were a catalyzing factor in the partnership that developed the lab’s current location. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Statewide benefits

David Relling, professor and chair of the physical therapy department, said the lab is an excellent example of the collaborations, innovations and forward thinking that benefit UND and North Dakota.

“It’s a real-life example of Leaders in Action,” Relling said. From his perspective, opportunities for the lab include collaborative research for faculty and graduate students; high impact learning experiences for undergraduates through real-time analysis of complex human movements; and real-life applications to train future physical therapists.

“All of these opportunities wouldn’t exist without the collaborative mindset of faculty, deans and administrators at UND,” he said.