Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 13 - Richard Fineman - ENHANCING HUMAN POTENTIAL - Part 2 of 3

Well, I want to back up because I want to actually give you a little time to talk about your research. I watched the clip that MIT made about your research, but can you kind of in your in words, tell a little bit about what you've been working on?

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JESSE: Well, I want to back up because I want to actually give you a little time to talk about your research. I watched the clip that MIT made about your research, but can you kind of in your in words, tell a little bit about what you've been working on? RICHARD: Yeah. So, kind of like what I said earlier, my work has to do with quantifying human performance from a biomechanics perspective. So, understanding the way that people are moving in order to inform different types of decisions. So, I'll give two examples from my work. So, the two examples that were highlighted in that video where this idea of like fall risk, and then actually related to my NASA work was spacesuits. So, both these two fields might seem distinct, but they actually paint a very similar perspective picture when you look at it from this perspective. So, when someone comes to a rehab clinic, they'll be seen by a therapist, and they're typically evaluated. And so they're evaluated using a series of tasks, and a lot of visual observation. So, the therapists will watch what they're doing. And they'll even be some like physical touching. So, they might feel if a like a certain muscle is ceasing up during an action, and see which muscles are activating and stuff like, that feel for atrophy, etc, etc. Now, when you look at like a space suit, when someone is moving in a spacesuit they're trying and the suit, the engine, engineers who build the suit are trying to see whether or not someone like fits in that suit, and whether that suit is going to work for them, they do the same thing. They visually inspect them using a series of tasks. And sometimes they even feel it like there are like soft components of the suit and they try to feel where is this person inside the suit. And they both need data on human motion to make decisions. So, currently, all of these decisions are made visually and very subjectively, so what my work tries to do is to take things that are done subjectively, and quantify them and make them more objective. So, for like the rehab stuff, I developed like a series of metrics for coordination and balance and fluidity that tried to quantify these various aspects of motion in a way that someone can use it to make a decision. And then, on the spacesuit side, I've used similar metrics, but to quantify what's called space suit fit. And so if you think of a spacesuit as like this passive exoskeleton, we've actually started to apply this concept of fit, not just to spacesuits, but to actually active exoskeletons. So, trying to quantify how health fit affects the way someone can move inside these exo systems. So, it’s pretty cool. That's kind of like the minute long spiel, hopefully, not too technical but if I like work-- Another way to think about it is, I try to use wearable sensors to diagnose various different musculoskeletal diseases. That's like the two second pitch. So, yeah, that's like my work. JESSE: Yeah. So, you're using like the motion-- I saw you using the motion caption software in the two minute highlight reel from MIT, and I was kind of curious, like, are using something out of the box or did you guys design that software? RICHARD: Oh, no. So, we use the same motion capture software that the movies use. It's called Y-Con, that's just the one we us and it's a series of infrared cameras. We use a whole bunch of them, and they're able to kind of-- the infrared light reflects off a series of markers. And as long as two cameras can see a marker, we can track in 3D space. So, that system is very-- it's not portable, you can only use it in the lab, and you can't really use it outdoors because the infrared gets saturated by the sun. So, we try to use these wearable sensors because we want to kind of take a lot of that advanced biomechanical analysis into other scenarios. So, for example, like a rehab clinic, not everyone can afford that kind of software. And for one, setting it up takes a while. It can take us up to 15 to 20 minutes, to put all the markers on a subject. And even then it can take us up to an hour to then post process the subject and when a patient only has 60 minutes with the therapist, they don't want to be wasting half of their time, using a technology that might not even help them make a decision. They want to spend all their time they can with their patient. So, in order to reduce the time burden on the commission, but also to give them more information that they might not be seen just visually, we try to use these like wearable sensors that are just commercially available and very safe to use. JESSE: So, the other sensors that you use, are you using them in similar body points, and then they have like, what is the word-- something to measure the velocity in them as well? RICHARD: Yes, they're called IMU’s, Inertial Measurement Units with the same sensors. Well, it’s actually a series of three sensors and the same ones that are in your phone. So, it's an accelerometer, a gyroscope and a magnetometer. So, from there, you get accelerations, rotations, and then you get orientation. And so with those three, you can use what I call, can approximate how the segment is moving. And you know the technology is good, but it's not the best. So, we do have to build in different types of methods to quantify error and stuff like that. So, the way we do it as we put one of these sensors on each body segment so that we can better-- So, we put one sensor on each body segment and that gives us an idea of how different body segments are moving relative to each other. And we can kind of do a full reconstruction of body shape and body position over time and stuff like that. Yeah. JESSE: So, are you thinking like, so is this, I guess what you're working on, is it only applicable in selling a clinical setting or could you use it, like almost a sport performance setting to like increase biomechanical efficiency in athletes? RICHARD: Oh, yeah, definitely. I mean, like, one of the projects are allowed worked on was in collaboration with the army to try to improve soldier performance. And there are thousands of applications that could be used for sports. My lab is funded through the NSF and the NIH so we don't really have the time to do sports. But definitely on the side, I've kind of tried to look into it myself. So, yeah, it's-- and I even dabbled in like a start up for sports, but I just didn't have time to flush it out with my PhD and stuff like that. Yeah, I mean, is this something that like, someone would maybe run with every day? Probably not because you have to put like a sensor on every body part. But is it something that a coach could use once a month to help their athletes visualize their form and technique and kind of refined a little bit better? Definitely. JESSE: Yeah. I just think about like, I do another show where I just talking about running and kind of my background in running and trying to share for people that don't know. And one of the things that comes up all the time is like running form, and I watch people run by my house and sometimes it's just terrible. Like legs are flailing out to the side and it's like, I don't think people always have enough body sense to realize how many extraneous movements they’re doing and what kind of damage that could potentially be doing to joints and things and let alone like, lack of efficiency and forward movement. RICHARD: Yeah. I mean, that's like a big open research question right now, at least that I have is that idea of injury prevention and stuff like that because you can see two people run, for example, totally differently, and they won't get injured. But you can also see, two people run almost exactly the same, and the other one is going to get injured, and one is going to get injured and one is not. So, there's very like subtle, one of them could just be anatomy, just their bones are shaped a little bit differently, the angle of their femur, femoral head is slightly different, which then makes one more prone to injury than the other, for example. But we really do understand acute injury. So, for example, if you fall and break your leg, that's an acute injury, it's happened like that. We don't really understand well, chronic injury. So, what kinds of motor patterns, and training loads lead to chronic injury. And part of it is because we just haven't had the technology to be able to track people on a day to day basis. JESSE: So, if you're studying, if you're picking up or if you get to choose, like a longitudinal study, are you taking like, say, 100 runners and tracking them over a year? And they're wearing your motion tracking equipment for a whole year? Would that give me you enough data? RICHARD: That would be ideal, for sure. But there's funding out there for that kind of study, it's too long. So, what you do is you kind of, you take time points, you know what I mean? So, the way a lot of studies are done now is, is you take time points, and you're able to-- you sample them, like every two weeks or something like that. But I think something that I'm really curious about is if we can continuously monitor these people, I think there's a lot of insight that can be had. So, imagine if your phone could tell-- if you sync a workout with your phone, and the app can tell you oh, we're noticing you're trending into potential higher injury risk, or something like that, consider adding strength or consider a decrease in your training load or consider, like going to a physical therapist to see what might be happening. And then at the same time, then that information can be ported to the therapist, or to the doctor, who could then use that to make a decision as maybe see why, understand why the machine was making that decision, and how many can intervene and stuff like that. In this day and age of machine learning and AI, I'm all about giving people data they can use to make a decision on their own. I don't think devices should be making decisions because then if they're wrong, we just inherently lose trust in it, and then we'll never use it again. Because a machine is a machine, it's binary, it's yes or no. A human can, it's easier to kind of allow them to make mistakes and so, yeah, that's kind of like my thinking behind it. JESSE: I mean, it kind of goes back to the beginning, it seems like you're suited well for private enterprise. Your head’s definitely there. RICHARD: Well, it could also be that I just came back from a whole bunch of enterprise interviews. So, I have been able to polish my pitch to them. JESSE: Yeah, that's fair enough too. So, this is kind of a personal, I want to say, like a personal - I mean, what’s it like wearing a spacesuit, because I'm pretty sure you're in a spacesuit in the video. RICHARD: Yeah, it's heavy. Those things weigh like 130 pounds. They're designed to be worn in lower gravity environments. So, weight isn't as big of an issue and you're also carrying. Also, I should say that the one that I wore was, like, 40 pounds lighter than it usually is because I was attached to an umbilical cord that provided me with fresh oxygen, versus on Mars or whatever, you'd have a portable version of it. So, yeah, it's very heavy. And they're definitely not perfect. I mean, they'll get the job done. But if you have to use those things, this is my personal opinion, I hope NASA doesn't get mad at me for this. But anyway, I think that chronic use of those things you're definitely going to have astronauts who might hurt themselves, and if they're on a long term mission, where they can't come home right away, that's definitely something to be worried about. Because NASA is all about having very calculated and schedule operations. If something goes wrong, the whole schedule can be thrown in disarray. And if you talk about a mission to Mars where you're there for nine months or something like that. Imagine having like one astronaut at a commission, the amount of science you can no longer do is cut by that much. So, I think we need to better understand how we can, for one, get rid of some of the effects of traveling and microgravity. So, when your musculoskeletal system isn't exposed to gravity and that constant load from gravity, you start to lose bone, you start to lose muscle. So, we need to like better understand how we can counteract that. And then also, we need to better understand if I'm putting someone in this very heavy spacesuit, that might alter the way someone naturally walks or interacts with the environment, what does that mean in terms of injury risk? And so now in my lab because we have these more portable measurement techniques, we're finally starting to kind of inch away at that question, which is pretty cool. JESSE: So, when I saw the video for your research because my head's in like private enterprise, my first thought immediately is, I'm thinking about how everybody's trying to like privatized space travel and then kind of, I'm thinking far down the line, in terms of development and people in space from like, Nike sponsored like high performance spacesuits is where my head went, is like the genesis of what you're working on becomes, eventually-- I say Nike just because they make performance products and performance like athletic wear, could be Under Armour, whatever. I'm not specific. But that's where my head went, just like how long till we see this weird amalgamation of like-- So, we already have, just like Tesla's already delivering payloads to the International Space Station, aren’t they? RICHARD: SpaceX, yeah. JESSE: Yeah. Sorry, I...get confused. So, I mean, you already have some kind of synthesis between private enterprise in a government run program. So, it's like, I'm just trying to envision into the future. You're talking about-- RICHARD: Here's the thing with with private spaceflight, though, is that you have a current-- I think current models for private spaceflight and tourism entails the tourists traveling up in a capsule, in a vehicle may be orbiting the Earth a few times, and then coming back down, or potentially, even potentially staying on a station. Now, the difference between that, and some of the exploration things that NASA wants to do is that it would require what's called an EVA, which is extra vehicular activity. So, the suits that I've worked on are EVA suits, they’re meant essentially human shaped space, spacecraft. And so when you're like launching, and then coming back to Earth, you do have to wear a specialized spacesuit, but the mobility requirements for that are, like, very minimal. So, for example, on the space shuttle they wore those orange jumpsuits when they landed. So, those are in the event of an emergency where there’s sudden depressurization, those will inflate, and then keep the astronauts breathing. But the astronauts technically would not have to move from then on. So, they only really required some mobility in the hands for the pilots. So, he could pilot the vehicle, potentially. But they don't need to walk, there's limited arm mobility that's required. But when you're talking about like walking on the moon, you need you need to be able to walk, right, you need to be able to crouch down to pick things up, you need to be able to use tools whether if you're digging and stuff like that. So, it's a lot more complicated. So, for private spaceflight, if you'd like to look at like some of SpaceX’s mock ups and Boeing’s mock ups, you can create a pretty aesthetically pleasing and functional suit for those launch and entry suits. But if you talk about like, then tourists doing EVA’s it becomes a lot more complicated. So, NASA is definitely more thinking about like exploration going back to the moon, going to Mars, to really think about those a lot more complicated technologies. But I mean NASA and Boeing, they have these contracts to bring astronauts back to the space station, and it's been constantly delayed because it's really hard when you start adding in people. We’re sensitive and when it comes to space travel, we're very risk averse right now. So, you really have to dot your I's and cross your T's and stuff like that. So, I think it's cool that people are starting to explore private space travel, but it always makes me a little bit worried. I hope people are like, really careful. Because as with any technology, if it happens too quickly and something goes wrong, it's going to be delayed for decades. So, I just hope that like the regulators are on top of it and making sure that everything runs smoothly. Go to Part 1 Go to part 3

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