How science and technology can influence human performance

Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas is known for innovations in everything from automotive and aircraft performance to space exploration. Now, this institute is pioneering research in human performance. We go into the lab to learn more.


Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, is known for innovations in everything from automotive and aircraft performance to space exploration.

Now this institute is pioneering research in human performance.

We go into the lab to learn more.

Here's the story.

We have a very wide breadth and technical depth in a lot of different areas, and what we've decided to do is to take these different technical strengths and approach human performance as a kind of target market or technology area.

This lab that we're in right now is housing an internal research program that we're currently working on, and this research is to take what's generally used in the academic world, which is the use of a marker motion capture system, and you've probably seen motion capture in animation.

You know, a lot of the great movies that are out, you see people in green screen with all these ping pong balls on them, right?

Which is great for animation, but that actual technology is used for biomechanical research and analysis, a very powerful tool.

So this is a marker.

This is actually used for infrared marker systems, and this is something that the cameras can see.

So you have multiple cameras that can then triangulate and say, 'Okay, that marker is in this 3-D coordinate.'

And these markers are then placed on the body, and you need to find what are called bony landmarks on the body.

So here in the wrist, you'd want to put the marker on the wrist.

Now, the problem is, is that every time you do this, you really need to put it in the same spot, and that's what's difficult.

It's very hard for a human to completely repeat the same spot every time.

This time-lapse photography shows how long it takes to apply and calibrate the standard markers to numerous locations on a subject's body -- over 25 minutes per person per application.

So this hat is representative of what you see in a lot of these markered systems.

It has four markers, and again, the issue, if I put this hat on one time, and I do the analysis, then, I take the hat off, the next time I put the hat on, there's no guarantee that I'm going to put it on the same way, and that's the issue is that you don't have reliability between your sessions, and this hat is a great representation of why we want to do this without markers, and so we're combining our expertise in artificial... Sorry, neural networks, sensor fusion, biomechanics and applying that to this problem setting, and that's what we're doing here in this lab.

So this is our capture space within our lab.

It allows us to capture with a marker system.

It has force plates.

It has our own cameras.

So in this area, we can develop our system.

We can test how well, how accurate it is, repeatability, that kind of thing.

They are being treated... Certainly within your SEALs, your Special Forces, they're being treated as athletes because at the end of the day, their body is the weapon system, and so there's a lot of research that's being done in how do you help them optimize their performance so they can continue day after day to execute the missions that they have, so it's very important.

The term tactical athletes is used, and that describes your Navy SEALs, your Air Force, your PJs, your Special Forces.

Also, that term is starting to be used for, you know, like, your emergency responders, you know, firefighters, paramedics, and so this idea that you have a population that their performance, you know, physical performance, is necessary for their overall job.

So when we say tactical athlete, we're talking about those folks.

Our current research is very focused on the accuracy of our system.

You know, how do we do this, this motion capture, without markers and give it a very accurate representation of the human body?

We believe our approach is groundbreaking.

There are other systems that do this, but really our key, what we're driving toward is accuracy.

We think this enables a lot of things.

This is just the beginning of a much broader area that we believe we can address.

Even recovery, if you need physical therapists and doctors to understand, you know, how well is someone recovering from a surgery, a hip replacement, a knee surgery, so there's medical applications.

We talk a lot about elite and tactical athletes.

We think there's a trickle-down effect to the broader population, and really that's what we want to do here at the institute.

You know, it's the betterment of mankind through science and technology.

It's not just, you know, helping somebody, you know, score more on the court.

I mean, that's great, but we think this application has a much broader application to the general population.

Saylor sees this research as yet another advancement for San Antonio's prominence in the fields of science and technology.

We see San Antonio as the home of military medicine.

We have UT Health Science.

We have a very strong, you know, biomedicine... You know, we have probably the best sports team in the world, so we have all the pieces and components here in San Antonio, so part of what we're doing here is we want to bring attention to San Antonio, as, like, the center for human performance, not just the river walk and tacos, right?

We believe that we have all the pieces and parts, the components to really elevate San Antonio as a leader in human performance.