Ford Factories Experiment With Gaming-Style Body Tracking Technology

Similar technology is used by superstar athletes to recreate movements on popular video games.

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CHRISTIAN ROLFES

What do Lebron James and Ford assembly line workers in Valencia, Spain have in common? They've both been asked to wear skin-tight suits packed with sensors that computers translate into digital movements. However, only the former will get paid millions for doing so.

According to a statement released on Tuesday, the Blue Oval and the Instituto Biomecánica de Valencia are experimenting with body tracking technology, a kind of sensor-driven imaging system that's typically used for movie special effects and sporting video game franchises such as FIFA, NBA Live, etc. In a setting such as an assembly line or assembly station, these light sensors are read by special motion-tracking cameras that record a worker's body movements as they perform their job throughout the day.

Once the images are processed, a three-dimensional skeletal character animation of the employee is created, and his or her movements can be analyzed by train ergonomists. According to Ford, besides overall movement, this data will capture measurements such as an employee's height or arm length, which will also aid in designing workstations that better-fit employees physique and therefore minimize physical strain.

“It’s been proven on the sports field that with motion tracking technology, tiny adjustments to the way you move can have a huge benefit,” said Javier Gisbert, production area manager of the Ford Valencia Engine Assembly Plant. “For our employees, changes made to work areas using similar technology can ultimately ensure that, even on a long day, they are able to work comfortably.”

Ford is considering rolling this technology out to other European facilities, but a tentative date for when this may happen was not released. With more than 50 active manufacturing facilities around the world, it's easy to see why Ford is currently experimenting with cutting-edge technologies that could assist in minimizing worker fatigue and increasing production. Besides the sensor suits being piloted in Spain, Ford just announced that it's rolling out its EksoVest to 15 assembly plants in seven countries around the world. The high-tech wearable is a carbon fiber exoskeleton that provides lifting assistance to assembly line workers who constantly have to lift objects.

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The Drive