A three-year Rice University project funded by the National Science Foundation seeks to measure and map out how people learn physical tasks, using the accelerometers in a Wii remote to capture the needed data.
The two Rice professors involved with the project, Marcia O’Malley and Michael Byrne, eventually hope to program robots to teach in new ways, enabling people to absorb information through repetition of the motor pathways. The researchers are following up O'Malley's previous work with using robots to treat stroke victims.
To do that, they will measure the motions involved in a variety of tasks, from playing paddleball and flying fighter jets. The project use Wii remotes to grab motion data, which will then be used to measure a range of motion and create a mathematical model.
“There are experts who learn at a slow, steady pace, but they get there,” says O'Malley, who serves as director of Rice's Mechatronics and Haptic Interfaces Laboratory. “There are novices, who learn at a slow, steady pace, but sometimes they never get there. And then there are those who start off awful, but somewhere in the middle of training they suddenly ‘get it.’"
She continues, “What will be interesting is, can we get this last group to ‘get it’ and become people who learn very quickly by honing in on the right cues? And can we get these people who learn very quickly to improve even faster? We’re interested in how these groups of performers differentiate, and if there are inherent characteristics of movement and control policies that lead to expertise. To find out, we need data."