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Friday, March 11, 2011

The secret of how kangaroos bounce revealed by 'Lord of the Rings' infrared technology


Captured: Reflections from small markers on the kangaroo are used in motion-capture to record movement

Hollywood technology used to bring Gollum to the screen in the Lord of the Rings blockbusters has been used by scientists to understand how kangaroos bounce.

Experts have been puzzled as to how the animals - especially when they become larger - are able to attain high speeds without breaking their bones.

But by using motion-capture technology, which records and analyses information from markers stuck on to the body, and infrared lights which illuminate the animals, they have been able to track their motion and force.

Motion: Infrared technology illuminate the subject and help researchers track the kangaroo's bounce

The motion-capture technique has previously been used to help golfers perfect their swings, and translate actor Andy Serkis' movements into Gollum in the celluloid trilogy.

However, the technique is not normally used outdoors because of the amount of infrared light from the sun, and so the Anglo-Australian research team utilised technology from Vicon to enable them to focus on kangaroos, screening out the ambient light.

The researchers are from the Royal Veterinary College in London, the University of Idaho, the University of Queensland, and the University of Western Australia, and hope their studies can be used in animal treatments and for conservation.

Craig McGowan of the University of Idaho told the BBC they wanted to find out how kangaroos change posture and 'hopping mechanics' with body size.

Monitor: A researcher monitors the kangaroo as it hops along a canvas tunnel during the experiments

'There are a number of species that, as they get larger, adopt more and more upright postures,' he said.

'That reduces the mechanical demands on the musculature - so it increases their mechanical advantage.'

The team's investigations - which also use the more usual method of high-speed video - were undertaken at Alma Park Zoo in Brisbane.

Wizardry: Motion-capture technology translated actor Andy Serkis' movements into Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy

Alexis Wiktorowicz-Conroy, researcher at the Royal Veterinary College, says they hope the experiments will explain how the animals manage to run so efficiently, and why they do not hurt themselves as they gain speed.

'We want to know how are they able to hop fast - even when they are quite heavy - and not change posture," she told BBC News.

'That's important, because these animals get really big, and we can't really explain without this why their bones don't break at high speeds.'

source: dailymail


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