30th Conference of the International Society of Biomechanics in Sports (ISBS)

Melbourne, Australia, 2-6 July 2012.

Event website.

Report by Simon Choppin, Agent and Postdoctoral researcher, Sheffield Hallam University.

Highlights

Gideon Ariel keynote - Successful biomechanist with commercially funded research.

Opportunities to provide software and methodological solutions to application based communities.

Practitioner lecture sessions - specific sessions where researchers saw how coaches and trainers were using research (or not) in their jobs. Interesting lectures which provided direct feedback to researchers. Why their research was or wasn't being used, what was needed in the future. Interesting parallels to the software development community and the importance of feedback between practitioners and developers. It was a nice addition to the conference and something that should be employed more widely (similar to the sessions in CW12 but the practitioners were outside of the research community completely).

Conference report

This was my first time attending the ISBS conference and it was an opportunity to engage myself with a new research community, specifically, sports biomechanics. I come from a discipline which is very concerned with methodology, how new research can be conducted through innovative approaches and how these techniques can be described. What I found at this conference was that the community is very applications based, looking for new areas in which to apply existing approaches. It is this area in which I see potential opportunities. The community seemed more sensitive to new approaches as they permit a slew of new research opportunities.
I presented two papers at the conference. The first discussed the accuracy of the Microsoft Kinect in body segment tracking and our work in developing usable software for the practitioner. I was buoyed by the interest this presentation got and I hope to work on finalising some of our research and software so we can interact with the community as soon as possible. My second presentation was on the work of one of my PhD students in the area of single processing and filtering. Despite advances in this area I got the impression that the community still uses relatively simplistic techniques to process things like movement and force traces. The technique I presented has been used in other areas (such as electronics for example) but relatively little has been written in the area of biomechanics. There was a lot of interest after the presentation concerning the proper use and application of this technique.

It strikes me that appealing to application based communities such as this one is an effective way for the ‘methodologist’ or software writer to make a particular impact. It is not enough to identify possible approaches (after all many of the techniques discussed have been used extensively in other research areas for some time) but also provide tools and software so the method can be employed easily by practitioners. We have seen this ourselves in some of the camera vision techniques we use. Early in my research career our centre began to use a ‘checkerboard’ camera technique which was being used extensively in robotics and provided a number of distinct advantages over the more traditional `direct linear transform` DLT method which was in use by the biomechanics community. Not only was DLT written into commercial software but the research centre which wrote some of the early papers on the method also released easy to use and free software for the technique. The method is still being used (and their papers cited) to this day.

However, the main keynote of the conference discussed some interesting points which put into question my aim of freely available software for high impact. Gideon Ariel talked about his research career and the history of his company Ariel dynamics. Through his innovations and commercial shrewdness he was able to fund years of research with income generated from equipment, software and athlete training. He was very adamant that for research to be useful it must not only be highly cited but commercially successful so that the profit can then be applied to yet more research. His talk was interesting and provocative, flying in the face of the funding structures many rely on in the UK. While spin-offs are encouraged in universities in my experience it has always been to separate the research and the commercial. A philosophical split can exist which supposes that the two are not compatible. In that regard, software could provide funding opportunities for groups in the position to exploit their intellectual property. I still haven’t remedied the conflict between providing tools for fellow researchers while also maintaining a commercial interest in my own mind.

In summary, I will aim to make an impact in application based communities (such as sports biomechanists) by providing software based tools with research publications. I am not sure how any of these things could be exploited commercially for the time being but it is something to consider in the future.