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An augmented-reality climb helps everyone from experienced rock climbers to kids

Rock climbing is one of those indoor sports that a lot of people could benefit from, but that has some major barriers to entry. Aside from all the fancy gym-based equipment you need if you don’t live in a natural climbing area, the sport presents both a physical and an intellectual challenge, with bouldering — climbing without a harness — ranking as one of the more intense ways to go about it.

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Bouldering paths on artificial walls are appropriately referred to as ‘problems,’ and they are usually color-coded with a piece of tape, but what if you want to go off the beaten path, or just focus on climbing without having to crane your neck up? Technology can help, as a group of Media Technology researchers at Aalto University in Finland have demonstrated. Using a Kinect sensor and a projector, they’ve developed a form of ‘augmented climbing’ that helps gamify the experience and keeps climbers on their toes.

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The system, which was tested on a group of students, offers a variety of ways to climb while also collecting a considerable range of data that can be used by future participants. New ‘problems’ can be defined with a well-drawn path or a handprint mark, if you don’t want to make it look like you’re on the bunny slope. The system offers video replay, which is perfect for reflecting upon and improving one’s own technique.

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Additionally, fun animations that react to the borders of your body — the designers used an animated chainsaw — can make the experience into more of a game.

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For the time being, the technology limits the researchers to a bouldering wall, which is about 4m high. Though one of the benefits mentioned by the researchers is maximizing the bouldering wall’s capacity, in that one wall can contain multiple routes, future tracking technologies might allow this system to be usable with a wider range of walls and in actual gyms. (They are working on such an installation right now). Aside from noticing the limitations with the current Kinect, the researchers are agnostic about what technologies will serve their purposes in the future, which include the following:

1) detecting what body parts touch the holds,
2) detecting when the climber occludes
relevant projected graphics,
3) tracking COM [center of mass] (e.g., for detecting falling),
4) robust skeletal tracking of climbing moves for detailed analysis and feedback, although many interactions can be implemented only using
features 1-3.

Julia Smith, a rock-climbing enthusiast living in Las Vegas, was enthused by the project’s potential to get people in the door. “I see a lot of birthday parties in climbing gyms, for example, and there are a lot of games they could play using [these elements],” she said. “I can also see how augmented climbing could be used by more experienced climbers for training purposes as well.”

[h/t] TechCrunch