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."
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.
“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.
Our digital dancer Lauren Pedri showcases her excellent dance moves as Dizzy the Digital Dancer, teaching students the National Science Week dance.
Research is about persistence and problem solving
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.
“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.”
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.