Microsoft's Kinect could keep an eye astronauts' weight

Kinect is expected to branch out into small business and banking in 2012. Now the gaming system's sensors could be adapted as a next generation weight measurement system onboard the International Space Station. It would relay data via 3D modeling, and require less space than the current equipment.

The creator of the new prototype system is Carmelo Velardo, a computer scientist at Eurecom in Alpes-Maritimes, France. He fitted the gaming sensor with body tracking cameras to produce a 3D image of an astronaut. The information was then fed into a statistical model that linked weight against the body measurements of in a database of 28,000 people.

The system came up with estimates that were 97 percent accurate; plus or minus five pounds. This is comparable to the current method used, but with the sensors being proposed to be mounted in the walls of the ISS, taking up much less space.

The current solution was created back in 1965 to solve the problem of traditional scales not working in zero gravity. Astronauts mount a stool that is fitted to a spring, raising and lowering the stool at a frequency dependent on the mass it is acting against. Stools and springs take up space and energy, which are at a premium on the ISS.

Accurate weight measurements are also at a premium; being key in keeping astronauts healthy. Even a short trip in space can cause muscles to atrophy due to lack of use or resistance; just a few weeks can cause a loss of body mass of up to 15 percent. Daily measurement and exercise help keep them on track.

In the end it may be a combination of the two systems that works best. NASA's chief scientist on the human research program notes that microgravity shifts water around in the body so real measurements may not match models. The two systems together could measure body volume and mass.

While it wouldn't save on space it would present the most accurate picture.

Velardo hopes to test the prototype system soon onboard a parabolic aircraft flight or "vomit comet," which simulates microgravity in orbit. He'll present the findings at the Emerging Signal Processing Systems conference in January.

Via New Scientist

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