Conventional 3D motion capture is awkward; even if you don't mind people covered with dots or ping pong balls, you often get just a handful of data points that miss out on subtle movements. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University might just have a more elegant solution in store, though. They've built a geodesic dome whose 480 cameras work in concert to track a whopping 100,000 points without the need for markers. The system uses its abundance of video footage to estimate trajectories based on changes in light, motion and shape, rather than looking for arbitrary cues or interpolating image frames. As you can see in the clips below, the resulting data is both vividly detailed and natural-looking -- you can see individual confetti flakes falling to the ground, and it's easy to follow every nuance of a batter's swing.
The Carnegie Mellon technology is using off-the-shelf cameras to achieve its effect, so it wouldn't be hard to expand the dome or number of cameras to accommodate specific tasks. A movie or video game studio could use it to record whole scenes with people dressed in appropriate costumes, rather than specialized suits. It may also come in handy for sports -- an arena lined with cameras could help referees confirm fouls and goals using the exact positions of the players. It could be a while before a large-scale mocap environment like this becomes a practical reality, but the concept is no longer far-fetched.