Jack Smith can put mine rescuers in the midst of an underground emergency with lives at stake, all in the calmness of a university research lab.
Smith, a quantum chemist and a research associate for Marshall University in West Virginia, runs the school’s simulation stage that immerses emergency responders in a detailed training program. But unlike most simulations, participants don’t have to wire themselves with sensors and markers that prove cumbersome. They simply step onto the stage–created by New York-based motion-capture company Organic Motion–and their movements are recorded by 14 cameras and converted to a computer program.
"And we can produce what looks like real smoke and real fire," Smith said of the mine safety program, which was created with the help of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration Academy. "[Rescuers] can do anything from put out fires [to] treat leaks and floods in the mines."
Marshall is among campuses worldwide using Organic Motion’s simulation stage, a valuable research tool that costs a fraction of traditional motion-capture systems. Andrew Tschesnok, the company’s CEO, said colleges and universities can buy the equipment for $80,000. Other motion-capture systems can cost upwards of $500,000, the company reported.
Officials from Marshall University and the University of Florida–where motion capture is helping war veterans adjust to everyday civilian life–said the simulation’s simplicity allows anyone to use the system, not just the ranks of the tech-savvy.