How a baseball outfielder gets to the right place at the right time to catch a fly ball

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Washington, Jan 22 (ANI): New research conducted at Brown University has tried to explain how a baseball outfielder manages to run to the right place at the right time to catch a fly ball.

The study saw Philip Fink, PhD, from Massey University in New Zealand and Patrick Foo, PhD, from the University of North Carolina at Ashville, programme Brown University's virtual reality lab, the VENLab, to produce realistic balls and simulate catches.

The team then tossed virtual fly balls to a dozen experienced ball players.

Brown researcher William Warren, PhD, said: "The three existing theories all predict the same thing: successful catches with very similar behavior.

"We realized that we could pull them apart by using virtual reality to create physically impossible fly ball trajectories."

According to Warren, their results support the theory of trajectory prediction, which suggests that the ball players do not necessarily predict a ball's landing point based on the first part of its flight.

He said: "Rather than predicting the landing point, the fielder might continuously track the visual motion of the ball, letting it lead him to the right place at the right time."

Since the virtual reality lab allowed the researchers to disturb the balls' vertical motion in ways that would not happen in reality, they were able to isolate different characteristics of each theory.

The subjects usually adjusted their forward-backward movements depending on the perceived elevation angle of the incoming ball, and separately move from side to side to keep the ball at a constant bearing, in harmony with the theory of optical acceleration cancellation (OAC).

The third theory, linear optical trajectory (LOT), suggested that the outfielder will run in a direction that makes the visual image of the ball appear to travel in a straight line, adjusting both forward-backward and side-to-side movements together.

Fink said their results focus on the visual information a ball player receives.

He added: "As a first step we chose to concentrate on what seemed likely to be the most important factor...Fielders might also use information such as the batter's swing or the sound of the bat hitting the ball to help guide their movements."

The findings of the study have appeared in an article titled "Catching Flyballs in Virtual Reality: A Critical Test of the Outfielder Problem" in the Journal of Vision. (ANI)

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