Researcher partners with military to study soldiers’ movements using 360-degree video

Research & Innovation

Texas State University | March 6, 2020

dr lester with four people in military uniform
Dr. Mark Lester (center), associate professor in Texas State University’s Department of Physical Therapy, led an educational panel on Feb. 13 at the American Physical Therapy Association’s Combined Sections Meeting in Denver. The panel discussed their research on wearable sensor technology in physical therapy practice.

Pictured from left to right: Maj. Will Pitt, assistant professor at the Baylor University – Keller Army Community Hospital Division I Sports Physical Therapy Fellowship at West Point; LTC Bradley Tragord, director of clinical education for the Army-Baylor University Doctoral Program in Physical Therapy; Dr. Mark Lester; Maj. Jamie Morris, an assistant professor in the Army-Baylor DPT program; and LTC David Robbins, an assistant professor in the Army-Baylor DPT program.

Working with active duty military personnel at Joint Base San Antonio, Dr. Mark Lester is using 360-degree video to determine if how people move in the real world is similar to how they move in virtual environments.

“I became intrigued by recent developments in video technology and began to wonder if we could create a virtual environment from 360-degree videos of a physical environment and test whether people actually move similarly in both,” said Dr. Lester, an associate professor in Texas State University’s Department of Physical Therapy. “I was able to secure funding from the U.S. Army Medical Department Advanced Technology Initiative program to test these questions.”

Dr. Lester is a physical therapist with more than 25 years of experience in military healthcare and doctoral training in motor control and neuroscience. He joined the College of Health Professions at Texas State in the summer of 2019.

The team led by Dr. Lester created several tasks for study participants, which would assess postural control under static and dynamic conditions. An interplay between a person’s sensory and motor systems, postural control is necessary for static balance and dynamic activities, such as reaching for a book on a shelf or running hurdles at a track meet.

lester and woman conducting exercise
Participants in Dr. Mark Lester’s study engage LED-lighted targets with a simulated rifle or pistol while standing, kneeling and walking along a jagged and straight course. A participant is shown in the kneeling pose at the Army Medical Center of Excellence at Ft. Sam Houston in the “target acquisition range,” a portable research space designed to be set up anywhere indoors.

Muscle, joint and nervous system injury or disease can impair postural control and lead to diminished function, decreased physical activity and increased risk of falling. In the military, postural instability can reduce physical performance and combat effectiveness.

The more a person is exposed to various types and magnitudes of postural challenges, the better he or she learns how to adapt to new postural threats. In the military, optimizing postural control improves operational task performance, such as moving under fire or breaching an obstacle.

For Dr. Lester’s project, participants engage LED-lighted targets with a simulated rifle or pistol in a specified order. They engage targets while standing, kneeling, walking an hourglass-shaped course and walking a straight course. Participants perform each task in a physical environment and, on a separate day, perform the tasks in the 360-degree video VE played through a head-mounted display. Researchers are comparing movement patterns between environments using kinematic data captured from a suite of wireless wearable sensors worn at the head, torso, feet and wrists.

Dr. Lester said this concept has great potential for future research and practical application.

“Producing the 360-video VE is relatively inexpensive and it seems to replicate some real-world tasks well,” said Dr. Lester. “It also seems to provide a good medium to study skilled movements in a controlled setting. While more research is needed, leveraging 360-video content may provide a means for greater application of virtual training paradigms to learn new skilled movements or relearn movement patterns impaired by injury or disease.”


This story is based on an article that appeared in the Texas State University Office of Research and Sponsored Programs’ newsletter titled “Engaging Research.”

For more information, contact University Communications:

Jayme Blaschke, 512-245-2555

Sandy Pantlik, 512-245-2922