Astronauts might soon be able to watch their weight in space by using a Microsoft Kinect. And no, I don’t mean that they’ll be playing Kinect Sports and Dance Central. A group of European scientists have found a way to hack a Kinect so it can determine your weight just by “looking” at you.
To measure weight in microgravity, scientists from Eurecom in Alpes-Maritimes, France and the Italian Institute of Technology’s Center for Human Space Robotics in Torino used the Kinect’s ability to create 3D models and checked it against a database of 28,000 other people, according to New Scientist. The resulting system created by this joint project can determine a person’s weight with 97% accuracy.
If you’ve ever played a Kinect exercise game, you might already know of the depth-sensing camera’s ability to measure body mass index and proportions. The scientists used the same figures and ran them through a statistical model program that ties body measurements to weight. So the computer determines an astronaut weight by comparing their 3D model against a database of other people’s measurements.
Measuring your weight is extremely important in space, because just a few weeks in the zero-gravity environment of space can take a massive toll on your body. Without the constant tug of gravity, the human body begins to naturally break down–your muscles atrophy and your bones shrink. To combat the effect, astronauts have to exercise for at least 2 hours per day, which could include being tethered to a treadmill or using a special rig for dead lifting.
Measuring your weight, however, is a bit more complicated when you technically weigh nothing, as is the case in zero-gravity. (What you weigh depends on the amount of gravitational pull your body is subject to; your body’s mass, on the other hand, does not change just because you’re in space.)
Astronauts on the International Space Station use a specialized rig where the astronauts basically mount themselves on top a stool on a pogo stick. The stool is raised and lowered repeatedly to determine the amount of mass (in this case, the mass being the astronaut’s body) it is affecting. The system however takes up a lot of room on the space station and requires a lot of power to operate.
The experimental Kinect based system is just as effect and is so small, the researchers told New Scientist, that it could be implemented into the very walls of a space station or craft–saving room and energy. There are no plans to have the Kinect system tested in space, but the scientists hope to test it on a parabolic aircraft flight–the so-called Vomit Comet flights that involves a plane flying upwards and downwards repeatedly to simulate zero-gravity.