Australian netballer wearing the wearable body mapping garment made by CSIRO

Australian netballer wearing the wearable body mapping garment made by CSIRO.

Science to move 'in the groove'

Wearable body mapping garments are helping Australian athletes to move with natural rhythms.

  • 23 September 2008 | Updated 14 October 2011

CSIRO is developing wearable body mapping garments that the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) is assessing for improving sports performance.

In a current project with the Australian netball team, an interactive garment is being used to train goalshooters in automatic rhythms to enable their natural action to remain undisturbed by their conscious thoughts in stressful situations.

The goal is to help netballers find their ideal rhythm and motion.

Researchers are hoping to see practical improvements in skills acquisition for netball shooters and then use these tools to work with other sports, such as basketball and shotput, in the lead up to the Olympic Games in London in 2012.

CSIRO air guitar technology

In 2006, CSIRO built a virtual air guitar, known as the Wearable Instrument Shirt (WIS), to showcase its expertise in designing and manufacturing human / computer interfaces for a variety of purposes.

Now CSIRO and AIS are adapting the air guitar technology to help train Australia’s elite athletes using mobile interactive learning.

'We basically turned the WIS into a DJ rapper glove and adapted software to play disco rhythms and have some features to characterise the dynamics of throwing,' said Dr Richard Helmer, CSIRO.

“We can now control feedback content and delivery to optimise an athletes’ rate of learning, thanks to our ability to work with CSIRO scientists.”
Dr Damian Farrow, Australian Institute of Sport

Mobile interactive learning

Mobile interactive learning requires unobtrusive body mapping information and mobile feedback to various senses (audio, visual) with software implementations that have a low computing resource requirement and customisable settings.

The air guitar, developed by CSIRO, consisted of wearable sensors embedded in a conventional shirt, with custom software to map gestures with audio samples.

The air guitar recognised and interpreted arm movements and relayed the information wirelessly to computers for sound generation.

CSIRO and AIS are using the air guitar technology to train elite Australian athletes to move ‘in the groove’ with natural free-flowing motions developed through a combination of action, disco rhythms, sound and repetition

In a joint project, Dr Richard Helmer (CSIRO) and Dr Damian Farrow (AIS) are combining their expertise to use a garment capable of mapping body motion for improving sports performance and skills acquisition.

To do this, they are developing a range of programmable feedback tools for use in the natural training environment.

'While we now have the capability to provide real-time feedback of athlete movements, more importantly we can control the feedback content and delivery to optimise the athletes’ rate of learning, thanks to our ability to work with CSIRO scientists,' says AIS skills acquisition specialist Dr Farrow.

Shooting goals

In the current project, the mapped motions of the athlete are used to trigger rhythmic audio responses which, through repetition, help the athlete to learn automatic movement responses that are ‘in the groove’ or free-flowing natural movements. The audio responses are based upon disco dance beats.

This training method is currently being used to improve the goal shooting skills of the Australian netball team.

The challenge was to find a method of instilling a memorable disco rhythm to match the goalshooting action in the player's subconscious. The rhythm becomes an unconscious response, approximating the athlete's biorhythms.

See a demonstration of a wearable body mapping garment in action with audio feedback being used in the training environment.

Dr Richard Helmer explains how he used the air guitar technology to help netballers shoot goals and Dr Damian Farrow shows how the disco rhythm becomes an unconscious response.

About the scientists

The wearable body mapping garments are being developed by:

  • Dr Richard Helmer of CSIRO Materials Science & Engineering, is a research engineer who is developing interactive textile devices and advanced materials
  • Dr Damien Farrow of the Australian Institute of Sport is a specialist in athletic skills acquisition who is applying these devices to elite athletic training.

Drs Helmer and Farrow are being assisted at CSIRO by:

  • Mr Michael Mestrovic and Mr Brendan D'Arcy, in electronics and wireless communication design and firmware
  • Dr Stuart Lucas, robotics, software and instrumentation
  • Ms Jan Hair, in garment design and assembly.

Their work is assisted by AIS staff:

  • Mr Wayne Spratford, in biomechanics and vicon motion analysis
  • Ms Megan Rendell, in skill acquisition and a doctoral study into implicit learning.

Find out more about how CSIRO and AIS are using Maths to speed swimmers.