System tests athletes’ performance

Two students developed a device to study athletes’ movements.

Test subjects, coaches, students and officials crowded around a convergence of technology, athletics and engineering Tuesday in Mariucci Arena.

The University’s motion-capture system uses sensors, nine cameras and technology to capture and record movements. Two University students are using the device to study athletes’ movements and try to improve their performance.

The system can be applied to a variety of sports and nonsport activities. For example, when applied to hockey, a skating treadmill is incorporated.

Researchers covered test subjects with sensors to test their movements on a skating treadmill. The information was recorded into a computer. After a few seconds on the skating treadmill, the system displayed acceleration levels, velocity, joint angles and alignment.

The nine cameras allow researchers to view body movements from numerous angles.

Biomedical engineering students Rebecca Ruprecht and Jessica Holst created the system. They said they heard about similar systems from professors in the mechanical engineering department and adapted their own system for a research project.

Ruprecht said she started it last summer and has put many hours into writing the manual and developing the software.

“I will graduate this year, and Jessica will take over and finish the project,” Ruprecht said. “I’ve had a lot of fun working on this.”

Incorporating new technology into athletics can have dramatic effects, such as stronger and quicker athletes and an overall better performance, Ruprecht said.

Cal Dietz, an intercollegiate athletics department assistant coach and the associate director of strength and conditioning, said he would like more projects such as the motion-capture system.

Dietz said he has worked with the mechanical engineering department on similar projects.

“It’s exciting to mix some of the brightest engineering students and world-class athletes together,” he said. “It’s a win-win situation, where both sides benefit.”

Dietz also said there are many benefits to converging athletics and technology.

He said coaches can create improved protocols, reduce injury risks and develop accurate timing systems.

“The ultimate goal is to bridge the gap between academics and athletics,” he said. “Here at the ‘U,’ there are so many connections and possibilities.”

– Kathy Easthagen contributed to this article.