NOTE: This is the latest in a series of Q&A stories featuring Brock University faculty members who are integrating the Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games into their research projects. For more information on Brock’s academic activities around the Games, visit brocku.ca/canada-games
Associate Professor of Kinesiology Michael Holmes is Canada Research Chair in Neuromuscular Mechanics and Ergonomics, Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and a Graduate Faculty Member for the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College. Holmes studies how the upper limb functions so as to understand repetitive strain injuries and upper extremity disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Using an interdisciplinary approach that combines techniques from neurophysiology and biomechanics, Holmes aims to improve worker performance and minimize workplace injury through his research.
Holmes is one of 11 Brock researchers and scholars who received funding under the 2019-2020 round of the VPR Canada Games Grant program. Here, he discusses his research project titled “Development of an objective video-based athlete assessment tool for performance optimization and injury prevention.”
Please give a brief overview of your research project.
Measuring human movement during work and sport can provide valuable information about human performance and injury risk. However, quantifying human movement has traditionally been very difficult. Markered motion capture systems are considered the current gold standard. Small reflective markers are placed on the research participant’s body at specific anatomical landmarks. The three-dimensional motion of the markers gets tracked by multiple cameras surrounding the lab. Using some math, we can calculate important aspects of human movement, like postures, joint angles and velocities. While extremely accurate, these systems are very expensive and they require technical expertise. In addition, this technology requires that research participants be in the lab.
Recent advances in computer vision have provided biomechanics researchers with cutting edge approaches for measuring human movement. Our work is contributing to the development of motion capture technology that requires video without wearable sensors to assess athletic performance. Our Canada Games research involved comparing the accuracy and reliability of a video motion capture system with the marked motion capture system. We did this by simultaneously recording video and marked motion capture data of elite baseball pitchers pitching in the biomechanics lab at Brock. This allowed us to calculate kinematics (joint angles and velocities) throughout the pitching motion using both approaches to compare accuracy and reliability.
What do you expect will be the outcome of your research?
Our data revealed that the video-based technology is accurate compared to the marked motion capture system. Video-based technology makes it easier to measure human movement outside of a lab with minimal technical expertise. However, our research was conducted under optimal laboratory conditions.
Initially, we were going to use the Canada Games as an opportunity to gather video data on elite athletes to help develop the technology. Since the Games were postponed, we collected this data on other elite athletes. Now, we are excited to collect more data during the Games to improve the technology’s performance and useability. We still have questions about the sensitivity of video-based motion capture. Our goal is to answer these questions during the Games, which will lead to the development of better athletic monitoring for improved performance and lower injury risk.
Once we validated our video-based approach, the co-investigator on this grant, Adjunct Professor Mike Sonne in the Department of Kinesiology, led a team who developed a smart phone app that can provide coaches and parents with the ability to automatically analyze recorded video and obtain performance assessments during practice and competition. Until now, quantifying kinematics has been limited to a research laboratory, but our work is putting evaluations into the hands of coaches, allowing for long-term athlete tracking.
How will this contribute to knowledge or understanding of the Canada Summer Games?
Thanks to many technological advancements, our work is leading to video-based, markerless motion capture. This allows us to track human performance “in game” and not have to simulate it in the lab, providing a method to easily track Canada Games athletes over time. We can track athlete movements in practice or during games, which can provide valuable insight into workload, fatigue and injury risk.
By testing our technology at the Canada Games, we’ll be able to validate the accuracy and reliability of video-based motion capture for in-game athlete monitoring. This approach will allow for an easy to administer tool that coaches can use to optimize athletic performance. We have started this work, specifically with baseball pitching, but plan to expand to other sports and athletes over time.
How did you become interested in this research?
Our lab uses motion capture technology to study human movement. Of course, we have a particular interest in workers, occupational tasks and injury risk. However, I’ve always been interested in sport performance and injury prevention. My colleague and co-investigator Mike Sonne was very interested in exploiting this technology for baseball pitching. Our lab largely studies upper extremity injuries and baseball pitchers have high rates of elbow and shoulder injuries, so this was a perfect fit for collaboration. After finding some graduate students who were also interested in baseball pitching, we hit the ground running.
How do you plan on sharing your research?
We will share our research results through traditional academic avenues, including publishing in biomechanics journals and presenting the work at national and international conferences.
Mike Sonne is the Chief Scientist for 3Motion AI and ProPlayAI. Our work has helped ProplayAI develop a smartphone app called PitchAI. PitchAI is available for download and sports teams and coaches can use the app to quantify pitching kinematics. So, work in our lab and from this grant is currently being used in industry and we are excited to share it with the Canada Games and expand into other sports. ProPlayAI was recently featured on ESPN for the MLB draft.
Do you have any advice or tips on how colleagues in your Faculty can incorporate the Canada Games into their research?
The Canada Games group and the Brock VPR Canada Games Grant program have been very open to new ideas. I would encourage colleagues to think outside the box. We all have different skills and interests. Even if your research is not directly related to sport, maybe your techniques and methodologies can be applied to sport. These interdisciplinary approaches lead to the most exciting advancements. For example, our group has taken video-based motion capture, which was largely developed in computer science, and have applied it to biomechanics and kinesiology.