A system of sensors designed to study the movement of a cheetah’s tail has applications for human movement studies
Spotted: A senior lecturer at the University of Cape Town has developed a new way of measuring human movement. Dr. Amir Patel was not thinking about humans when he began his study of how cheetahs use their tails. Instead, his focus was on understanding how tails work to stabilise movement, in order to improve the manoeuvrability of mobile robots.
As part of his research, Dr. Patel created a special harness, with a camera facing backwards, that could be comfortably attached to the back of a cheetah. Using the camera, along with accelerometers, GPS and gyroscopes, he was able to capture exactly how the cheetah’s tail worked to create drag. Dr. Patel then wrote an algorithm to model the skeletal movement of the cheetah, including its spine and tail.
He realised that his work could also be of use to sports scientists, who relied on custom-built studios and expensive motion-capture cameras. Using seed funding from the university, Dr. Patel and his team adapted their cheetah sensors to create a system of inexpensive, light-weight sensors that can capture the movement of the human body very precisely.