Ergonomics done right.®
September 13th, 2018

Ergo U: The University of Pennsylvania: Where Motion Capture Began

In the series Ergo U: Ergonomics Research Notes from the Field, Humantech ergonomist Blake McGowan meets with ergonomics researchers from leading universities and associations across the country to share their latest findings.



Field Notes: Recently, Blake visited The University of Pennsylvania to view the original, sequential photographs of 19th century artist Eadweard Muybridge. His collection of human and animal locomotion was instrumental in the development of motion-capture technology and, later, cinema. The simple question “Do horses gallop with all their hooves off the ground?” is what prompted him to enter the field of motion and movement research (biomechanics). Through years of snapping and analyzing photos, he finally concluded that, at one point during a horse’s gait, all hooves are off the ground

In 1883, The University of Pennsylvania granted him space to continue his research. It was there that he produced the thousands of photographs (of animals and humans in motion) we recognize today. In the later years of his life, he published several books and developed a projection screen called the Zoopraxiscope. He is widely recognized as a pioneer in the photographic studies of motion and the field of biomechanics.

Blake’s Take: “To see some of the original works of Muybridge was amazing. When I studied biomechanics at the University of Waterloo, it was through textbooks and lectures that I learned about his work and contributions in the field. Seeing the original plates and being at the university that gave him the environment in which to conduct his research reminded me how far back motion capture dates. It’s thrilling to see its use in the field of ergonomics today.

Being part of the team at Humantech to integrate an advanced tool like motion capture  in to  The Humantech System®, an ergonomics management tool for the manufacturing environment, makes me feel like I’m part of something really big. Improving the lives of the working population is what ergonomics is all about. This tool will make that happen faster. In my opinion, Muybridge and the University of Pennsylvania is where science met technology.”

The Research Behind It:  Dr. Sanghyun Lee, from the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor,  was looking for an easy and affordable way to collect human data to understand how it impacts ergonomics (productivity and safety). Leading a team of 12 researchers, he developed such a tool. To prove it works, they conducted several validation studies comparing the results of motion capture to human observation.  To learn more about him, read this Ergo U blog post.