Pair’s plan for motion-capture system would aid rehab analysis wins at business plan competition

Two engineering graduate students who think they’ve found a simpler, cheaper way to analyze the motions of rehab patients and injured athletes have won Arizona State University’s 2004 Entrepreneur Competition.

Prem Kuchi and Raghu Hiremagalur took top honors last week with their business plan for MotionEase, a business that will use computer vision technology to capture people’s patterns of movement.

Jane Larson
The Arizona Republic

Second place went to Custom Microfluidics, a plan from bioengineering doctoral candidates Anil Vuppu and Tilak Jain to develop computer chips to speed up the discovery of new drugs. Twenty-one teams entered the competition.

This was the third year for the competition, sponsored by the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering, and the first year that the winners will receive cash and professional services to help launch their business. Intel Corp.’s foundation contributed $100,000, of which MotionEase will get $90,000 and Custom Microfluidics will get $10,000 in seed money. Valley law firms and business organizations will contribute more than $50,000 worth of legal, marketing and other consulting services to get MotionEase off the ground.

The competition was very close, said Gregg Adkin, general partner with Scottsdale-based Valley Ventures and chairman of the judging panel. MotionEase came up the winner because its product seemed to be further along in development and because of the size of its potential markets, he said.

Doctors who want to analyze a patient’s walking pattern currently have to put reflective markers on key points of the patient’s body, then use special cameras to record the motions in three dimensions and analyze them. MotionEase would be the first company to do away with the need for markers and custom cameras, Kuchi said.

Kuchi, a doctoral candidate in electrical engineering, and Hiremagalur, a master’s candidate in electrical engineering, said they got the idea for the business from their work in computer vision and pattern recognition. The software they are developing would pick up a patient’s walking pattern from conventional video cameras, helping doctors decide what behaviors the patient should modify or what muscle groups the patient should exercise.

"It took a couple of months to capture five people’s gaits, and we knew we could develop algorithms for it," Kuchi said.

The students’ work would be one of the commercial applications to come out of ASU’s Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing, which researches ways computers can help people overcome blindness or other physical challenges.

Being able to pick up a person’s walking pattern from a video is more practical and less expensive than the marker system, said center Director Sethuraman Panchanathan, who is advising MotionEase.

The market for motion-capture systems is $1 billion a year and growing, but the MotionEase founders think chiropractors and physicians are an untapped segment worth nearly another $1 billion. The technology also could apply to a wide range of industries, including motion-picture animation, Kuchi said.

Reach the reporter at [email protected] or (602) 444-8280.

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