Birmingham student joins crew of tall ship to bring Virtual Mayflower to life

Birmingham Engineering MSc project student Stefan Roth joined members of the School’s Human Interface Technologies (HIT) Team to undertake a truly unique trial of new motion capture technology as its wearer braved the wind and rain to scale the heights of a tall ship moored at London’s Canary Wharf.

Beth Goss scaling Lord Nelson tall ship wearing motion capture suitDespite the appalling weather, Beth Goss, Bosun’s Mate of the Jubilee Sailing Trust’s ship the Lord Nelson, managed to complete a 34m climb of the vessel’s main mast.  The Lord Nelson is one of only two tall ships in the world specially designed to be sailed by a crew with wide range of physical abilities.  The Trust is an international disability charity that promotes integration through the challenge and adventure of tall ship sailing.

The HIT Team will use the results of Roth’s MSc project to develop techniques similar to those found in today’s film productions, exploiting the captured motion data to animate computer-generated crewmembers that will populate the Virtual Mayflower ship, ready for its launch in 2020.  The ability to represent human-like movements accurately, especially at a distance from the viewer, is an important feature in enhancing the believability of interactive virtual environments.

Goss wore a Perception Neuron motion capture suit to record her every movement, including a range of actions the crew of the Mayflower would have carried out, such as transiting the yard arm and unfurling the lower top sail. The suit takes the form of a flexible “exoskeleton” comprising small Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs) each containing a gyroscope, accelerometer and magnetometer.  The suit can be worn over other clothing and the movement data collected from each IMU is transferred via a mini-USB cable to a lightweight laptop, in this case, contained within a low-profile backpack worn by the subject. Goss also wore two 360o panoramic cameras, to record her activities as she went aloft.

The Virtual Mayflower will form an important part of the Mayflower 400 celebrations. In 2020, the United Kingdom, United States of America and Holland will commemorate the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower, the ship which brought the Pilgrims to what is now the United States’ East Coast.

The Lord Nelson tall ship in Canary Wharf

Professor Bob Stone, the HIT Team’s Director said:

“We are incredibly grateful to the crew of the Jubilee Sailing Trust’s Lord Nelson for making their incredible ship available to us in between its busy schedule of providing such memorable sailing experiences for abled and disabled people alike.  Although the crew wondered at first who and what they had let on board, their interest in the project soon became evident, and the help we received to make our motion capture trials a success, especially given the appalling weather in Canary Wharf, was nothing short of fantastic.”