Monday, May 28, 2007

The Skiing Machine

Okay, stay with me here. I have been thinking a lot about skiing. In fact, I was skiing in the shower last night, and marveling again at how LITTLE forward motion it takes to get TOO far forward, and how MUCH you can flex into a big, hard turn. (I have a tiny little shower, so I can close my eyes and visualize the turns, make different turn shapes and so on, without feeling like I am going to wipe out in my shower.)

Not that it hasn't happened "Thump." "Ow." "Honey? What was that?" silence. "Babe? Are you okay?" Husband walks into bathroom. embarrassed silence from the shower. The shower door opens. I am rubbing my knee. He looks at me. "Were you skiing in the shower?" I nod. "Did you wipe out?" I turn red. Wait for it, wait for it... "Do you want me to get your helmet?" Smirk. Turn and leave bathroom. From the other room, voice floats back into the shower... "Or your poles? Do you want those?"


So anyway, I think a lot about skiing and what it feels like and what feeling I am reaching for. In tennis, someone can stand behind you and manipulate your arm, so you can feel what you are reaching for. But to do that in skiing, someone would have to be ON your skis with you, bending and moving you while you are going, I don't know, 20 miles per hour?

So I have been thinking about different skiing styles, I think a lot about how Josh Foster looks when he skis, he looks solid and powerful, yet light, nimble, soft, fluid, flowing, like flexible power. Then I think about what Nick Herrin looks like when he skis, athletic, light, exuberant, goofy, happy, leaping, nimble, airborne. And I wonder, if you could EXPERIENCE what different turns feel like for different people, and you laid those experiences over each other, like transparencies, what the differences would be, and more importantly, what the similarities would be?

What does it feel like for Deb Armstrong to be in a slalom course? Wouldn't you DIE to know?

So, in my insanity, I thought... what if I came up with a simple piece of gear that would allow a coach to SHOW a student what it should feel like to ski?
So I came up with this first version of the "Skiing Machine", and as you can see it is just a platform on a big spring (since snow operates in three dimensions). You click into the bindings, you are stabilized by a harness, you have super long poles with rubber tips that reach the ground, and you can "ski" on the board. Your coach can watch what you are doing, and assist your turn shape or understanding of it by pulling on the platform handles.

Okay, so then, I thought, well... wouldn't it be even cooler if you could click into the platform and the coach could, using a computer, analyze the way you are moving the board, see where your misunderstanding of the process is, and then tell the board to move a certain way. Then YOU ski the board, and then the board skis you-instant kinesthetic response.

Okay. Stay with me here. In the next split second, I thought to myself, BUT WAIT! (This is where Tom always groans... because this is how all my sculptural projects happen, and he usually bears the brunt of them... visit Adventures in Sculpture Building and scroll down to the Best Peel for the last epic in that department...)

So now, I am thinking about Motion Capture technology, you know, where the actors wear a blue suit with little points all over it where a computer reads their movements, and can translate that information into a 3D model.

So I am thinking, what if you got Josh Foster, Nick Herrin, and Deb Armstrong to all wear this suit, going down a certain run? And their physical sensations were recorded in a mobile recording device. And then it was brought back inside to a virtual training room. You climb up on a platform and get inside this suit.

The suit would open and close, for lack of a better mental image, like an Iron Maiden (only, you know, not deadly and painful). The black teardrop shaped arms are "actuators", rubberized Kevlar or something, and it is essentially a robotic suit that you stand in. The platform is split and hinged, and computerized to move using the sensors from the skis and boots. The rest of the suit moves based on the data from the skier who wore the "blue suit".

Okay, so step inside the suit. The operator closes the suit. You relax, and go for an intimate ride virtually inside the body of your favorite skier. Hmmm.

Okay, lets take it a step further. Now YOU wear the blue suit down a certain run, trying to make the kinds of turns your coach wants you to make. The data is taken to the virtual training room, and your COACH goes for an intimate ride inside your skiing body. Now, he can FEEL where you are camping, where you are hesitating, how far back you are and why, instantly.

Sudden, perfect feedback for instant change and understanding of your skiing. Here is the next insane step: Rather than a robotic suit, make those actuators electro stim modules. Rather than going for a ride and having to be relaxed, the stims shock your muscles, just like in the Chiropractor's office (only more so), causing your body to perform the action exactly as it was performed by the recording skier. Scary, huh? But kinda cool...

Regardless of how totally insane and expensive this would be to make for real, MAN, I would love to build a sculptural mock-up of it, and make it look just super technically savvy and futuristic. Sigh.



Unknown said...

Cool! I'd totally wear the suit. The motion capture technology link is cool too, I made Mo boogie at least 5 times. I guess this sort of technology already exists in a couple of different ways. Whenever you see an ad for the latest sports video game they always seem to have an athlete wired up to capture their movements, so the capture end of the idea seems to already be in place. I guess the challenge is to relay the information to the student. Maybe you could put them in the suit with with the sensory input (zap 'em!) but with visual input as well. Have you ever seen when the commentators of a world cup downhill use video overlays to show the different lines that the racers ski? Maybe that could be integrated so you have a visual of how you're moving compared to the "ideal" as well as what that should feel like. A good place to start might be on something like this but with that big screen in front of the deck.


a said...

Hey, Josh! Awesome. I went to the site and that's exactly what I had in mind! I love those enormous projections.

A virtual environment, but more of a wrap screen, like astronauts and pilots use, with projections of the actual skiing run, feedback to the platform of what the ground feels like, and then the suit articulating according to the person that wore it on the actual run!

Or, you could just get on and ski virtually. Man, how fun would that be??

Thanks for lookin!


a said...

I haven't seen the overlay, but the other Josh (Spohler) told me about it, I am gonna go find it on the web and post it here.

Then you could try and ski on TOP of a projected image... but the only issue there is that we'd want the suit to help you ski YOUR body better, not ski like someone else, or be a carbon copy of them, and I could see how this would go down that road really fast.

I think you'd need some depth in the stored runs of different types of skiers skiing the same run, so you can find the "core skills" similarities, and feel the different personal expression or choices that everyone makes.


a said...

Hey, I just found this! Its a video game for virtual skiing, but as you can see, it doesn't necessarily promote great body position. Anyone want to do movement analysis on this guy?