December 09, 2008, 8:43 PM — Just how good is the Wii's motion controller, really? A group of researchers at Rice University intend to find out. Armed with a National Science Foundation grant, professors Marcia O'Malley and Michael Byrne will spend the next thee years measuring motions as simple as slapping around a paddleball to as sophisticated as maneuvering a fighter jet.
What'll they test against? Something called a Vicon motion capture system. The press release doesn't specify which one, but probably something like the Vicon MX, which uses cameras in conjunction with a controlling hardware module and software to achieve high resolution motion capture. Some perspective: Vicon's been involved in everything from "transforming Ray Winstone in Beowulf, to creating the Transformers, right through to the work on The Golden Compass" according to Nick Bolton, chief executive at Oxford Metrics, of which Vicon is a subsidiary.
Back to the Rice study: "We're already grabbing motion data from the Wiimote," said O'Malley, "so soon we'll be able to measure a range of motion and then turn it into a mathematical model."
That mathematical model will help gauge the effectiveness of robotics to improve motor skills. Say you're having trouble with your golf swing. You could practice until you trial-and-error your way to a solution, or you could just slip on a robotic sleeve that uses comparative performance data to physically notify you where the hitch is in your swing.
Will the Wii's motion controller stand up to the Vicon system? Probably not dollar for dollar, but O'Malley has perfectly understandable reasons for picking Nintendo's multimillions wonder: "Using the Wii will be a great way to recruit subjects," he says. "We can say, 'Hey, kids, come play some games!'"