With the National Science Foundation's Major Research Instrumentation Award, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute will acquire a 16-camera Vicon MX motion capture system that will track up to 40 motion points on a single person or object or 20 points on two interacting people/objects in real time. The resulting data provide the basis for capturing, analyzing, modeling, and reproducing very realistic motion of complex objects like humans and robots. The system will also include an animation workstation and software that will convert the motion points into animated objects that exhibit motion characteristic of the monitored target person or object, while modifying the external appearance of the person/object. The equipment will be installed in the Rensselaer Social and Behavioral Research Laboratory as part of 500 sq. ft. virtual reality studio. The resulting facility will be one of the very few academic installations capable of recording data involving human and moving object kinesics in this detail.

The instrumentation will be used in a number of lines of research. A common theme among these research projects is the need for capturing rich data about human social and behavioral dynamics, with the intent of answering basic questions about how human beings use physical motion to understand their world and to communicate affective and cognitive states. This understanding is crucial to the development of better models of human-object and human-human interaction, and to the development of interface strategies to support next-generation systems for human-computer interaction. In addition to providing data addressing basic theoretical questions, the equipment will also foster the development of practical HCI applications, such as interfaces that better support social and physical interaction by using full body motion or by sensing and adapting to emotional states. It will also support development of diagnostic tools that foster the understanding of illnesses/syndromes that include various social dysfunctions.

This equipment will facilitate partnerships between social scientists and engineers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. These collaborations are increasingly necessary for a deeper understanding of fundamental human social and behavioral dynamics that can be incorporated into the development of new modes of engagement with technology, with the goal of encouraging more human-centered design of interfaces, agents, and robots.

Projects that will make use of the equipment include a study of human perception and action in physical spaces, physical and social reasoning, kinesic elements of nonverbal communication and trust, effects of physical cues on collaboration effectiveness, combining the motivational power of games with physical exercise for health benefits, simulated dance performance as a form of math education, simulation of social interaction with robotics, and the development of ground truth for multiple robot motion studies.

The instrumentation will also serve as an important educational resource, enabling Rensselaer to train the next generation of social scientists and engineers in the collection and analysis of dynamic social and behavioral data, and serving as a powerful recruitment tool for students interested in mastering these techniques and addressing questions that are best answered with the kinds of rich data collected with this kind of observational equipment.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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John E. Yellen
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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
United States
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