This is a cross-posting from our pals at Sports Technology Blog, an Australian blog that curates and reviews emerging tech and sports products that can help athletes, coaches and sports scientists take their game to the next level.
By Julian Chua
The 776BC motion garment is a performance wear designed with the aim of democratising motion analysis for athletes. It is a simple (sensorless) yet well thought-out approach; with strategically placed lines and markers, the motion garment provides visual cues for good or improper techniques. It can be used on its own as a training and coaching aid or it can be complemented with the Motion Companion App.
- The 776BC Motion garment has no sensors, it’s a sports garment with clear anatomical visual markers that are easily identifiable for video analysis; which makes it properly unobtrusive.
- Coaches can rely on the visual markers to identify improper technique and provide real-time feedback while next to the athlete, or view a video recording for post analysis.
- The 776BC Motion Companion app is a useful tool for video analysis with annotations and simple measurements, and can be a great add-on for remote coaching
776BC is a performance sportswear company based in Melbourne, and not only are they the official apparel supplier (and sponsor) of the Australian rowing team, they are also a support partner of the Victorian Institute of Sport, providing athletes with performance wear.
A couple of years back, they developed a new range of clothing called Motion and its aim is to simplify motion tracking and allow coaches to easily correct technique. The motivation and concept sounds quite similar to the Notch wearable sensor which we reviewed recently, only it is even simpler than that. There are no sensors to be worn, only visual markers on the clothing itself, which are meant to work somewhat like reflective markers in optical motion capture systems.
How does it work and what could we get out of it? Let’s get into the details and find out more.
What is it?
The Motion performance wear is designed with strategically placed lines and markers such that when worn by an athlete, those markers (the circular dots & triangles) represent biometric/biomechanical markers. Those markers allows a coach (who’s standing next to the athlete) to have a better visual gauge of joint positions and angles. As seen in the photo above is the long sleeve (or base-layer as it is branded as) and long tights with a combined total of 28 markers. There are also short sleeve shirts, singlets, short tights and rowing suits. With less clothing, there are less markers. Although they are not meant to be compression wear, it is useful for the shirts and tights to be quite tight fitting rather than loose fitting. This means the markers will stay in place when the athlete is moving and consistently “reflect” the right joint.
How can it be used?
There are 3 ways the Motion performance wear can be used during training:
- As briefly mentioned earlier, a coach who is watching the athlete can point out incorrect technique or movement with reference to the visual markers and lines.
- In the absence of a coach, and depending on the training activity (e.g. weights training), the athlete could make use of a mirror to check him or herself.
- Lastly, an alternative to the mirror is a video camera. This option allows the athlete (and coach) to review the video together while the coach provides feedback. The recording also serves as a point of reference and can be compared with future sessions.
The video below is a pretty good example of an athlete doing back squats in front of a mirror with a coach giving real-time feedback while referring to the visual markers. The coach also basically taught the athlete how he could make use of the Motion visual markers to train.
Motion Companion App
776BC also developed an iOS App called the Motion Companion. In it contains a video analysis suite where a coach/athlete can load up videos of an athlete wearing the Motion garment and analyse movements, mark up the video, measure angles, and create reports.
It is similar to a few apps that are out there in the market and I think the closest one is Hudl Technique. I won’t be going into a comparison of the different apps. If you are interested, the founder of 776BC listed out the key features of the various apps and how they stack up here. One main thing that stood out with this App is that it is free. There is no premium or pro version that gives us extra bits, just one free version which has all the features and there is no catch.
Just from my initial interaction with it, I found a couple of other things I like about the app:
- Firstly, it doesn’t require a user to sign in. I can just open the app and start using it.
- Secondly, there are multiple ways of obtaining a video
- I can start capturing video from within the app,
- I can use my native iPhone camera app to record then import the video, or
- I can record a video with another camera, upload it to the cloud (e.g. Dropbox) and import into the companion app.
I will discuss more about the app and some of its features further down. But before I do that, I would like to talk about a practical application of it.
I think one really good use case for such a system (Motion garment + Companion App) is for remote coaching. So for example, an athlete can record a video of themselves training while wearing the Motion garment to send to their coach. The coach imports the video onto the companion app, reviews and analyses the video, creating some annotations/mark-ups on the video. The coach can record a commentary over the video or write some notes, then share it with the athlete. The athlete looks through the report, clarifies some queries with the coach (if there’s any) then repeats with next training.
But would this work for every sport or different types of training?
Camera Setup & Types of Capture
For this (remote coaching) to work well, the camera should be capturing the athlete’s movement with full view of the markers (or at least the ones that are critical for the training). Having a tripod or a secure way of mounting/holding the camera/iPhone will be ideal for capturing good footage. I think the example above of strength training is a very good one. If you look through 776BC’s YouTube channel and the Companion App (Motion Training Videos), you will find a few other good examples including:
- pilates or yoga
- running on a treadmill
- rowing on an ergometer
- field throwing events – shot put & discus
- golf swings
Using these as examples, I am sure there are other similar sports movements or training that can be captured on camera and utilise the Motion system. I decided to have a go at a sport (not mentioned above) that might work – flatwater kayaking.
A Kayaking Example
I picked kayaking because it can be done on a kayak ergometer and I can basically mount my iPhone on a tripod and record myself paddling from different perspectives (i.e. front, back or side). Or I can also mount a camera on the front or rear of the kayak and capture myself paddling on the water. Even though I am moving forward in the kayak, I am in the same spot relative to the kayak and the camera gets a full view of me the whole time. So it can still work.
On a kayak ergometer
Being able to use my iPhone and the companion app to record a session is really convenient because it has a timer option that gives an audible countdown so I know when it starts recording. It also means I could jump over to use the video analysis feature to analyse the session right after if I wanted.
Being in an indoor controlled environment also meant I could capture different views quite easily (as long as there is space for me to put a tripod). The side view gives me elbow angles during my pull and a visual of how straight or curved my back is in the sagittal plane. The back view clearly shows me how high and low my hand goes before a push and punch. It can also show me how straight or curved my back is in the coronal plane. The front view provides more context of my hands positions and elbow angles when transitioning from a push to a pull and vice versa.
Unfortunately, even though monitoring ergometer training is convenient, based on this paper, paddling on an ergometer doesn’t really replicate the biomechanical demands on water. In other words, it’s not much use analysing my paddling motion on the ergometer. Nevertheless, it allows us to start somewhere.
On the water
When paddling on the water, the options for video capture is more limited – I could either mount the camera in the front or the rear of the kayak. This gives me back and front views similar to when I am paddling on a ergometer. Except now, water is added into the mix, and the 3D forces I am working against are the real-deal and quite different from the ergometer. I can also see moments when my paddle blades and hands are entering the water and starting the “pulling” phase, and the corresponding joint angles and position relative to each other.
Some useful features in Video Analysis
For some of us that are not too familiar with Video Analysis tools, lets briefly go through the key features in this Motion Companion App:
- Speed (of playback): we can adjust the playback speed to half the speed or quarter of the speed; this allows us to carefully examine every motion.
- Annotate (or marking): allows us to add text, shapes, lines and measure angles
- Screenshots: this is nested in the “More” tab; it allows us to save a screenshot of exactly what is shown including the lines and angle measures.
- Video Report: also in the “More” tab; coaches can create video reports or a screen recording while they annotate and even add a voice commentary
- PDF Report: as an alternative to Video reports, a coach can write down his thoughts accompanied with the Screenshots and save it all as a PDF.
- Dual video: this feature is good for comparing videos side by side; a coach could be doing a comparison of 2 different athletes, or a past vs present video, or 2 different views of the same session if more than 1 camera was used.
Simple & Easy Implementation: I will start with the pros. This is a very simple motion analysis tool that is very easy to implement. There are no sensors involved, so no need for charging and no calibration required. If the coach is present, all the athlete needs to do is put on the motion performance wear. If not, the athlete might need to remember setting up a camera to record the training.
No password: Further to the point above, the companion app doesn’t have its own cloud or server, so every capture is either stored on the mobile device or on the user’s own cloud service (e.g. iCloud or Dropbox). In a way, it’s a good thing because that means it doesn’t require a login and thats one less password to remember.
Data (or lack of data): On the flip side, being sensor free can also be a con, because it means we can’t get accurate data of acceleration and speed. But then if that is something a coach or athlete is really after, they can always incorporate additional sensors into the training. The only thing is needing another platform to combine all the different sources of information.
Other things to take note of: Since this is essentially a camera and visual marker system, it is very reliant on lighting. Poor lighting conditions (as seen in one of the “on water” shots above) means a poor video capture and it makes it harder to analyse the video. Though there is no calibration required, the athlete does need to put on the motion performance wear correctly so that the markers are positioned accurately. This is especially so with the long sleeve base layer.
Additional notes from the 776BC founder
I had the opportunity to chat with Cameron (one of the founders of 776BC) and got some insight to the design intention of the Motion garment (and app) and a couple of things they are working towards in the next 12 months.
Educating younger athletes. Cameron used to be an elite athlete in rowing and could access high performance services in sports institutes. But he believes it is the younger athletes that are starting out that need good support and education on proper training. Having accessible tools like the Motion garment accompanied with training videos that guides them on proper technique will be really helpful.
Motion training videos. This is what 776BC is focussing on next – working with different top experts in sports to develop content for training. The training videos will use the Motion marker points as reference. A few of the sports they are targeting include golf, baseball and athletics.
Adding more features to the Motion Companion App? As mentioned, their focus now is on creating educational training content. So they won’t be trying to cramp more into their video analysis suite. In fact, he recognises that coaches could already be invested in an existing app or software (eg Hudl Technique or Coach’s Eye) and it is not their intention to convince people to switch to the Motion Companion. The Motion garment markers can still be applicable using any video analysis app.
What would be cool to see next time
I mentioned about incorporating additional sensors to Motion. I think that will be a cool thing to see – having the Motion garment designed with small pockets in certain locations so that IMUs or other wireless sensors could be inserted to measure acceleration and rotation of the joints/trunk/limbs. But based on my conversation with Cameron, his preference is really for things to remain simple. I have a feeling it is something they might consider but it won’t be in the near future.
Would I keep using the Motion Garment? The Motion base layer I got is really nice and comfy. The quality feels really good. So I will definitely wear it again when I do get out to paddle. As for the Motion Companion app, since I am not training or being coached for any competition (nor am I a coach) at the moment, I won’t really be needing it. But I would definitely recommend others to try it, especially if they are not on any other video analysis app.