Motion Capture and Analysis Laboratory (MOCA)

Primary mission and goals

Motion capture technology enables researchers to accurately record movement through space and time. This technology has enabled a variety of applications at GW including the synthesis of motions of digital characters, tracking instruments in image-guided surgery, analyzing motion of Olympic swimmers, understanding fundamental issues surrounding our ability to navigate, analysis of sports performance, analysis of primate locomotion, and creation of performance pieces based on capturing dance motion.


MOCA was established in 2005 using funds from the office of Vice President for Research under the Centers and Institutes Facilitating Fund. The objective of MOCA is to provide the infrastructure (laboratory space, equipment, support personnel) to enable researchers, educators, and clinicians across the University and the greater Washington D.C. area to capture, analyze, and apply digitized motion for purposes that enhance the education and research missions of GW. MOCA has enabled a number of investigators to explore new avenues of research that lead to externally funded projects as well as to allow existing projects to realize their full potential. MOCA and the Institute for Computer Graphics have acted as a catalyst and a focal point to enable researchers and educators to conduct collaborative activities across traditional discipline boundaries.

Faculty from a wide range of disciplines are involved in MOCA. The leadership comes from SEAS and the CCAS. James Hahn, Ph.D. is a full Professor in the Department of Computer Science. He has a joint appointment with the Department of Anatomy and Regenerative Biology as a Professor of Computer Medicine. He is also the founding Director of the Institute for Computer Graphics as well as the Institute for Biomedical Engineering. John Philbeck, Ph.D., Associate Professor, is Director of the Cognitive Neuroscience Program in the Department of Psychology and the founding Director of the GW Mind-Brain Institute. He is also a Research Associate Professor in the Department of Neurological Surgery at the GW Hospital. Brian Richmond, Ph.D. is Chair of the Department of Anthropology, and an Associate Professor in Anatomy and Regenerative Biology. He is also a Research Associate at the Human Origins Program, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

Participating Faculty

The following lists a number of faculty involved in motion-capture/analysis research in MOCA:

  • James Hahn, Department of Computer Science, is interested in capturing the motion of medical instruments and anatomy for image-guided surgery

  • John Philbeck, Department of Psychology, is studying cognitive factors for human navigation.

  • Brian Richmond, Department of Anthropology, is studying the evolution of human gait and hand in earliest tool technology.

  • Jerome Danoff, Department of Exercise Science, is interested in studying injuries associated with sports activities.

  • Maida Withers, Department of Theater and Dance, is interested in creating new performances using computer-generated visualizations controlled by human motion.

  • Gabe Sibley, Department of Computer Science, is interested in calculating the motion of robots as ground truth in navigation algorithms.


Recent notable accomplishments

MOCA contributed, in a measurable way, to three of the main goals of GW's Strategic Plan, notably 1) enhancing research, including external funding, 2) improving graduate education and scholarship, including "greater visibility of GW graduate education programs," and 3) improving undergraduate education:

  • External funding: $8 million in external funding awarded since 2005 that involve the use of MOCA, primarily in awards from NIH and NSF, but also including prestigious NSF doctoral dissertation improvement grants by Ph.D. students. Some examples include:

    • $2.8 million NIH R-01 funding jointly between SEAS and SMHS. This is the first R-01 from SEAS

    • $3.2 million NSF-IGERT funding for the HomPal program. The MOCA Lab is integral to the research proposed in this grant.

    • “Medial Temporal Lobe Role in Human Locomotor Navigation” NIH / National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2/2005–1/2010, PI: John Philbeck; $726,008

    • “Role of the ground plane in judging absolute distance after brief glimpses of real environments” NIH / National Eye Institute, 10/2011 – 9/2015, PI: John Philbeck; $944,253.

    • "Recovery and analysis of early Pleistocene hominin fossils and footprints, Ileret, Kenya”. National Science Foundation, Physical Anthropology (BCS-0924476). PI, B.G. Richmond. Period of support: 09/01/09-08/31/11; $69,999.

  • Research: A large number of publications in top journals, including Science, Journal of Experimental Psychology, Psychological Science, PNAS, and Journal of Computer Animation and Virtual Worlds

  • Graduate education: Several Ph.D. students' dissertation research depends upon the MOCA Lab. The success of their research helps in a tangible way to improve the prestige of GW. One student (Nicole Griffin) was awarded the prestigious Ernest Hooten Prize for Outstanding Research at the annual, international in Physical Anthropology (2008).

  • Visibility of GW Graduate Programs and Research: The MOCA Lab was the focus of two National Public Radio's Morning Edition stories in "The Human Edge" series:

    • "Fast Feet: A Springy Step Helps Humans Walk," broadcast on July 19, 2010, and on their website feature
      (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128575033). Richmond and two Hominid Paleobiology PhD students, Kevin Hatala and Kallista Bernal, were interviewed.

    • "A Handy Bunch: Tools, Thumbs Helped Us Thrive" broadcast on July 26, 2010, and on their website feature
      (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128676181). Hominid Paleobiology PhD student, Erin Marie Williams, was the focal interview in the story.

  • Undergraduate education: Hundreds of undergraduate students have gained research experience and/or training involving the MOCA Lab. A number of undergraduate research theses have been made possible through MOCA. Noah Cohen was recently awarded the prestigious Gamow Undergraduate Research Fellowship to pursue MOCA-related research with Dr. Philbeck.