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Sundance 2019: Embody Tracks Movement To Center The Body

Sundance 2019: Embody Tracks Movement To Center The Body

Embody from Melissa Painter’s team at MAP Design Lab is being shown at Sundance 2019, featuring full body tracking with only a headset attached to the body.

Embody’s “visual metaphors” help guide visitors back to their bodies. That might sound a bit abstract, but with no controllers or additional body attachments beyond a headset, the experience begins by freeing people of hand controllers or Vive Trackers.

In a demo at an office in Venice, California, the team employed a very sensitive foot mat to hone in movement tracking combined with body movement data captured from a ZED stereo camera pointed at the play space. “By combining computer vision, neural net algorithms / cutting edge machine learning algorithms, the pressure sensitive mat and headset tracking, the system provides a virtual world responding to full body user inputs,” according to the company.

We’re “thinking around how we use spatial computing as an opportunity to use technology to help enhance people’s relationship to their physical body,” Painter said. “Our goal with this was to create a shared experience where you are taken through a guided series of movements where I didn’t have to put anything on your body but a headset.”

Pose estimation of multiple people shown on a nearby PC.

In one of several scenes that are part of Embody, the player sees colorful petals floating all around above the ground. There’s a transparent outline of a human stepping forward and simultaneously raising both arms above the head.

The project is an official selection at New Frontier Sundance 2019, and Embody was created in partnership between MAP Design Lab with lululemon Whitespace. It’ll be shown with Samsung Odyssey on Windows Mixed Reality.

Sensitive foot pad for body input.

As I start to move my arms I realize the petals around me move too, and I begin to understand that by repeating the movement of the character, as my arms swing upward the petals all around me will come to life and fly up. It is as if they are caught in the air around me by the wind of my arms cutting the air.

Very quickly I begin to tune my movements to more closely reflect the transparent outline, and to my satisfaction the petals seem to fly up again and again in close relation to my movements. There’s a surprise at the end of the experience I don’t want to spoil too much for those who see it at Sundance, but suffice it to say there’s a powerful metaphor in centering oneself before reaching out to others.

ZED camera for body movement detection.

This is the same company behind MoveStudio on the Microsoft Store, an exploratory experience that starts with head movements and hand movement to manipulate the world around the player. That experience is available on Microsoft VR headsets while MAP Design Lab also built AR projects like HEROES for HoloLens and In Orbit for VR headsets, available now for free on Steam. The company is also working on Magic Leap prototypes.

Painter is being very thoughtful in exploring the cutting edge of spatial computing, and the MAP Design Lab Sundance demonstration is an intriguing look into what can be done with full body tracking as a user input. The lab’s overall “mission is to utilize cutting-edge immersive technology to provide unique experiences that expand the appeal of AR/VR across genders and generations in ways that can improve the user’s overall wellness and brain chemistry.”

Here’s the team behind Embody at MAP Design Lab: Melissa Painter (Founder, Creative Director), Thomas Wester (Creative Technologist), Joey Verbeke (Sound Designer and Engineer), Ben Purdy (Lead Developer), Peter Rubin (Lead Artist), Candice Colbert (Lead Technical Artist), Olivia Barry, PT (Movement Expert), Kate Wolf (Producer), Yuehao Jiang (Concept Artist), Quin Kennedy (Unity Developer), Jeremy Rotsztain (Unity Developer).

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