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By  Alice Trend Simon Harrison 25 August 2023 4 min read

Key points

  • During National Science Week, more than 21,000 Aussie school kids danced with a 'digital human'.
  • Digital humans are virtual representations of us and can be used to understand human movement.
  • The event showcased how artificial intelligence and motion capture techniques could be applied in sports and healthcare.

The tricky question posed by The Killers  ‘Are we human or are we dancer?’  has been answered with a resounding 'yes'.

Our dancing digital human rocked out with more than 21,000 Australian students during National Science Week. The digital human took the young dancers through their paces to learn a robotic routine.

Included in the Dance with a Digital Human event, the dance party highlighted how digital twins can help enhance athlete performance and prevent injury. Aussie school kids from Years 1 to 9 registered to learn about how technology is being applied to human movement.

Lead researcher Simon Harrison says the team wanted to create something special for National Science Week.

“We took technology we've been working on and applied it to dancing and an AFL warm up. What could be more fun than that?” Simon says.

“Keeping people moving and strong is why I do this research. So, we wanted kids to experience the digital twin concept through movement."

Digital Twining

In science, we use digital twins of buildings, our bodies, planes and more so we can understand them better.

Creating a digital twin of our body, that is, a digital human, can help in many ways. It can guide us to better understand our health, how to personalise our diet, how to create new foods and even how to get better at sport. 

During National Science week, students learned about how this research and new motion capture techniques and analysis have been applied to enhance elite diving and swimming.

We shared the excitement our researchers felt working with some of the world’s best athletes to help enhance performance and minimise the risks of injury.

New methods of motion capture

Researchers need a way to track human movement for analysis and animation. You may have seen traditional motion capture techniques in movies, where actors wear dots on their bodies so animators can follow a movement and add a digital skin – like a dinosaur – on top. Our markerless technology doesn’t need any dots, it's ready to go!

How do we create a digital human?

Simon takes us through the steps of making a digital human in our Mixed Reality Lab.

Thanks future Simon. We're here in the Mixed Reality lab in Clayton in Melbourne and we'll learn about how we make digital humans.

Look at all these cameras and look at all this equipment. We're going to use these to measure human movement and build a digital human model.

Over here I'm showing movements on a GoPro. You can see the joints of my body. We use these to build up a digital model.

So what is a digital human? A digital human is a computer model of our body. It includes the shape of our body, the way we move and 
what's happening on the inside. We can use it in the doctor's surgery to improve our 
health. We can use it on the sports field to improve our performance and we can use it 
in the workplace to reduce injury.

There's so many ways this technology can improve our 

Now excuse me I'm getting back to work.

whoa [Music]

Researcher Simon Harrison takes us through the process of making a digital human in the Mixed Reality Lab at CSIRO.

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“First, we show the computer a lot of pictures of humans and their joints so it can recognise them  I mean, a LOT,” says Simon.

“And these pictures need to be labelled with relevant words, so the computer knows what’s important about the image and can learn to recognise that.”

We’ve trained the computer algorithm so it can recognise human joints all by itself. This is called machine learning, a field of artificial intelligence. A series of cameras capture human movement. Then the algorithm creates a stick figure, which our animator can overlay with a skin or 'avatar'.

Our team were lucky enough to get the chance to turn AFLW player Sarah Lampard into a digital human.

Sarah is enthusiastic about using technology to help players track their speed, and prevent and recover from injury. She takes students through a short warm up to get their blood pumping, demonstrating the importance of warming up before sports.

Hey, everyone My name's Sarah Lampard, and I'm an Australian footballer and I play in the AFLW. I love sport, I love science,
and I love technology.

So I'm really excited to get turned into a digital human later today. I love sport 'cause of the way it makes me feel out in the field. I feel free. I love to run around, I love to play with my mates, and most importantly, I love winning with my mates as well.

Before we get on the field though, it's super important to warm up, and warmups are so important because firstly, they help us prevent injuries.

And secondly, they also help us perform at our best. So we'll take you through one of those shortly as well.

But I also love the way that technology is involved in the AFL as well, whether that's from GPS units tracking how fast we run to little other devices that help us with our injury prevention and coming back from injuries as well. All three interconnect really well, and I'm excited to get stuck into it.

Let's jump into the digital realm. All right, we'll start our little warmup by jogging on the spot. So follow along with me.

This will make sure that our blood is pumping around our body and we are starting to heat up a little bit.

So keep jogging. And now, what we're gonna do is we're gonna do some high knees. So try and get your knees nice and high up to about the height of your hips. And we'll do some butt kicks.

And now, what we're gonna do is we're gonna do some side steps. So we'll head this way with me first. AFL football has a lot of change in direction so it's super important to make sure that we're ready to go and ready to change direction. So side steps are super important. We'll head back this way. And back we go.

It's also important to warm up our hamstrings 'cause there's a lot of kicking and sprinting in AFL football. So we warm those up as well. So what we're gonna do is we're gonna do some hamstringing sweeps. So you're gonna reach down and sweep the ground just like this.

And you should feel this in your hamstringing so that you should feel a bit of a pull in through here. And now that our hamstrings are nice and warm, we'll warm up our quads now as well. So we'll grab our foot and pull our leg up. And go the other side.

And we'll keep changing. And the other side. And back we go. And now, we will just open up our hips as well. So we'll go do this exercise
called opening the gates. So this gets our hips nice and warm. So pull your legs outwards.

Open those gates. And now what we'll do is we'll close the gate. So reverse that action. All right, so you should be feeling pretty warm now. So we'll get back to jogging on the spot, but this time, we'll go a bit faster. So before games, we like to make sure that we get some high speed running in. So we're gonna sprint. So go even faster. Even go as fast as you can if you'd like.

All right. Now, we should be feeling pretty warm now. That's it for me. Have a great National Science Week.

Sarah takes us through an AFL warm up and is turned into a digital human to highlight the best ways to warm up our muscles for movement.

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Our digital dancer Lauren Pedri showcases her excellent dance moves as Dizzy the Digital Dancer, teaching students the National Science Week dance.

Hi, everyone, my name's Lauren. I work at CSIRO.

I'm also known as Dizzy the Digital Dancer.

We're gonna learn some moves for National Science Week and understand how scientists can use information about our bodies to do really cool things.

Let's get started.

We're going to imagine that our robot is turned off, so we start facing downwards like this, and when we hear the music, we're going to stand up.

Our first move, we're going to bend forward at our knees, bend, and then we're gonna pick our leg up and swing it out.

We're gonna twist. And back to the front, we put our hands up, and point them forward.

Let's try that together.

We're gonna bend at our knees.

We go one, two, swing our leg, twist, twist, hands up and point.

Our next step, we're gonna do a slow robot walk.

So we're gonna pick our leg up, one, two, three, four.

We're gonna look to the side, back to the front, put our hand up, and we're gonna do a slow wave, using each one of our fingers.

Let's try that bit together.

From our robot walk, we go one, two, three, four.

We look, look, hand up and slow wave.

Let's see if we can remember that from the very beginning.

We're gonna bend our knees forward.

We go one, two, swing our leg, twist, twist, hands up and point.

Robot walk, robot walk.

We look, look, hand up, slow wave.


Our next step, we're gonna imagine that there's a box in front of us and we're gonna touch each corner of the box.

So we go one, two, three, four.

And to finish that, we're gonna touch our heads, shoulders, knees, and toes.

Let's try that bit together. We go point, two, three, four, heads, shoulders, knees, toes.

Let's see if we can remember that from the very beginning.

We're gonna bend our knees.

We go one, two, three, four.

Twist, twist, hands up, and point.

Robot walk, robot walk. We look, look, hand up, slow wave.

Point, two, three, four.  Heads, shoulders, knees, and toes.

Now, to finish off our dance, we all get to do a freestyle robot for eight counts.

We're going to pick whatever move you like.

We go one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.

The music's then gonna finish.

We're gonna power down as well.

Let's try that twice through from the beginning with music with Dizzy.

Let's rewind and do it again.

That was amazing.

I hope you all enjoyed that.

Keep dancing and keep moving.

Back to you, Simon.

Dizzy the digital dancer will take you step by step through the National Science Week dance, inspired by robots.

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Research is about persistence and problem solving

The motion capture (MOCAP) dataset lacked any data to animate the hands. Their default position was open and upright.

According to Simon, the process of creating the digital human wasn't without its challenges. As he explains to the students,  a problem-solving mindset is a key skill for researchers. It ensures you're ready when facing setbacks or new challenges.

Fletcher Woolard, the team’s visualisation artist, describes one of the challenges that arose when animating hand movement. 

Controls were added to each finger so they could be animated independently to give more realism to the dance.

“The existing technology focussed on large movements of the body. So, some of the smaller details were lost in areas like the hands. To counter this, I added controls to override the motion capture data and give finger level control to the digital human. This helped bring her to life.”

“The amazing thing is that while we were working on customising the technology for kids, we learned a lot of new things about the tech along the way.”

Key Takeaways

This National Science Week activity highlights some important lessons for students. These include the science behind why moving our bodies is important to maintain strength and mental health, and how the applications of technology are only limited by our imaginations.

The students came up with fantastic ideas to apply the technology in other areas. Examples included animal welfare, other sports (especially soccer – well done Matildas!), Paralympians and medicine. 

To see so many curious minds connecting with applications of the technology was fantastic, explains Kirsten Rose, our Chief Executive.

“I tell students to be curious, and to look for answers because their investigations and ideas might just end up changing the world,” says Kirsten.

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