Researchers at Bielefeld University in Germany have developed a virtual coaching system that promises to help athletes improve performance and treat mobility issues due to injury or illness. Called the ICSPACE (short for intelligent coaching space), the system uses a virtual avatar, 3D stereoscopic glasses, and reflective markers to allow the user to raise awareness about and fine-tune their own movement habits.
Whether you're an athlete or just want to improve your form at the gym, it can help to see how your body is moving – in ways that you can't observe from a mirror alone (and with real-time feedback that a recorded feed can't provide). The Bielefeld researchers think they've found a better way, using some glasses and head-tracking.
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To use the system, a 3D scan of the user is completed to create an avatar of the user. Once the user puts on the reflective markers and the 3D glasses, they see their avatar in front of them, reflected in real time, in the projected coaching space. The series of reflective markers and cameras allow the user to see their avatar from the front, side or back to be able to better judge how they are performing a particular movement or exercise.
The system includes visual training cues that highlight individual body parts in color so that a user can see if they are doing an exercise correctly or not. For example, if the user is performing a squat, but not bending their knees correctly, that part of the body appears red until the user corrects the position.
Users also have access to a half-transparent figure that can be overlaid on their avatar to show how to perform the exercise correctly. Think of this as a ghost of perfection, giving you a real-time example of what to strive for.
A virtual coach, also projected into the environment, can add an additional layer of information and capability to the system by verbally clarifying which movements the user needs to correct and visually demonstrating the proper way to perform an exercise. The ICSPACE virtual coach also has access to video of the user's movements that can be played back to point out what changes a user needs to make.
ICSPACE was created with the involvement of six research groups from the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC) at Bielefeld University. The project included experts and scientists in the fields of biology, psychology, sports science, linguistics and computer science.
The ICSPACE research team pointed out that the system isn't meant to fully replace human coaches or trainers, but an increase in demand for proper training and injury rehabilitation could eventually mean that some type of intelligent coaching system is as available as the nearest Smart TV (well, that and the necessary reflective markers, sensors and glasses). Of course more development and research is necessary, though, before that becomes a reality.
The video below illustrates the ICSPACE system in more detail (in German with English subtitles).