Audio recordings as motion capture

I spend a lot of time walking around the city with my daughter these days, and have been wondering how much I move and how the movement is distributed over time. To answer these questions, and to try out a method for easy and cheap motion capture, I decided to record today’s walk to the playground.

I could probably have recorded the accelerometer data in my phone, but I wanted to try an even more low-tech solution: an audio recorder.

While cleaning up some old electronics boxes the other day I found an old Creative ZEN Nano MP3 player. I had totally forgotten about the thing, and I cannot even remember ever using it. But when I found it I remembered that it actually has a built-in microphone and audio recording functionality. The recording quality is horrible, but that doesn’t really matter for what I want to use it for. The good thing is that it can record for hours on the 1GB built-in memory, using some odd compressed audio format (DVI ADPCM).

Since I am mainly interested in recording motion, I decided to put it in my sock and see if that would be a good solution for recording the motion of my foot. I imagined that the sound of my footsteps would be sufficiently loud that they would be easily detected. This is a fairly reduced recording of all my motion, but I was interested in seeing if it was relevant at all.

The result: a 35 MB audio file with 2,5 hours of foot sounds! In case you are interested, here is a 2-minute sample of regular walking. While it is possible to hear a little bit of environmental sounds, the foot steps are very loud and clear.

Now, what can you do with a file like this? To get the file useable for analysis, I started by converting it to a standard AIFF file using Perian in QuickTime 7. After that I loaded it into Matlab using the wonderful MIRToolbox, resampling it to 100 Hz (from 8kHz). It can probably be resampled at an even lower sampling late for this type of data, but I will look more into that later.

The waveform of the 2,5 hour recording looks like this, and reveals some of the structure:

But calculating the smoothed envelope of the curve gives a clearer representation of the motion:

Here we can clearly identify some of the structure of what I (or at least my right foot) was doing for those 2,5 hours. Not bad at all, and definitely relevant for macro-level motion capture.

Based on the findings of a 2 Hz motion peak in the data reported my MacDougall and Moore, I was curious to see if I could find the same in my data. Taking the FFT of the signal gives this overall spectrum:

Clearly, my foot motion shows the strongest peaks at 4 and 5 Hz. I will have to dive into the material a bit more to understand more about these numbers.

The conclusion so far, though, is that this approach may actually be a quite good, cheap and easy method for recording long-term movement data. And with 8kHz sampling rate, this method may also allow for studying micro-movement in more detail. More about that later.

One thought on “Audio recordings as motion capture

  1. Grete refsum


    Having paternity leave clearly allows for creative experiments in which life, art and science are brought together. This is culturally important, a win-win situation for the baby, the parents and the advancement of new visions and knowledge.

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