Written by Simon Austin — September 28, 2017
HumanTrak: An easier alternative to the biomechanics lab?
A BIOMECHANICS LAB is the gold standard for football clubs wanting to assess player movement and mechanics.
Manchester United have their own, which they use for screening, training, monitoring and rehab - but even they don’t have a dedicated biomechanist on their staff. Elsewhere, clubs often regard labs as luxuries – brilliant when you need them, but too time-consuming and expensive to use regularly.
Quicker, cheaper options have come onto the market, such as traditional cameras or inertial sensors, but the problem is they don’t collect data with the accuracy and reliability required by top clubs and players.
Now the Australian company behind the NordBord believes it has the answer: an easy-to-use movement analysis system providing clinical-level accuracy. Pierre Lagadec invented the HumanTrak technology when he was studying for a PhD in sports biomechanics at Teeside University.
The Frenchman created a way of gathering positional data using a camera and fusing it with inertial movement sensor (IMU) data. Vald Performance CEO Laurie Malone first came across the technology in late 2016 and immediately saw the huge impact it could have for health and performance professionals.
Vald acquired the BioX Data Holdings Group responsible for developing HumanTrak this year and commercially launch the product next month. Malone doesn't suggest HumanTrak will replace the biomechanics lab altogether, but says it offers clinical-level accuracy while being "as simple and easy to use as possible”.
“Dr Lagadec has put a huge amount of work into the algorithms behind HumanTrak – the fusing of the camera and IMU data has never been done before," Malone told TGG. "All that effort has resulted in the most reliable field-based biomechanics screening system.
“Biomechanics labs beautifully track people and will continue to be the gold standard. However, biomechanics labs are limited in their ability to be portable, affordable and quick.
"Often, by the time an athlete realises they have something wrong with them it’s a week down the track before they’re assessed.”
The kit comes in a neat carry case and consists of three main elements: a Microsoft Kinect Camera, sensors containing an accelerometer and gyroscope, and a customised laptop with specialist software. Malone insists that after an hour of training, anyone will be able to use the system.
“The kinect camera is a brilliant piece of tech, using infrared to detect 25 positional data points around the body," he explains. "You don’t have to put any of the dots on, because the camera does it for you.
“The sensors are worn on the wrists and ankles. They provide the acceleration and angular velocity at the end of each limb and transmit at 200Hz. The system then fuses the two data streams together using the algorithm.”
The data is “sucked up into the portal” and can be accessed via an app - remotely if the user isn't able to get online.
“There are always hundreds of data points such as 3D co-ordinates, joint angles and forces streaming live from the system, but we are trying to make the very complex really simple, so we give four key metrics straight away and another set of metrics in your report,” Malone adds.
The user can choose from a range of measures, including joint reaction forces, ranges of motion, angular velocity, balances or alignments. This will give practitioners the objective data they often crave.
"If I’m an athlete and this is my life, I want people to show me they are doing the right thing," Malone says. "I want objective data. That’s the way the world is heading now.”
For screening purposes, a player could be quickly assessed using an exercise such as a squat or jump off a box. At the moment, a lot of clubs aren’t able to regularly monitor players because it takes too long.
“If you have someone overloading on one side, for example, you will probably want to rectify this,” Malone says. "We can identify that imbalance and allow action to be taken to correct any issue.
“Asymmetry, particularly in the lower body is clinically relevant, so we are always comparing deviations and highlighting them through colour coding to flag it to the practitioner.”
And with rehab, there is often a missing link between how a player feels and how they are actually moving.
"We can now accurately quantify that in the field,” Malone says.
"This objective data can help inform key decisions made in the management of a player's training and rehab.”
A series of validation studies have been completed for the system and a soft launch involving NCAA college in the United States and practitioners in Australia generated positive feedback.
“The people who are using it are loving it,” Malone insists. "It will change the way players are assessed. You don’t need specialist qualifications to operate the system. You could literally give it to a trainee once you’ve worked out the protocol.”
The product is now ready to hit the general market and the Australian says HumanTrak will “demonstrate the brilliance” of sports science practitioners and physios. Perhaps, in time, it could have a comparable impact to the now ubiquitous NordBord.