How do you take a cheetah’s temperature?

All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk.

The answer, of course, is very carefully (ba-dum-bum!).

Okay, having gotten that horrible joke out of the way, it seems like people are really interested in cheetahs and how they hunt.  I’ve written about monitoring cheetah hunting behaviors before and the implications that technology has for future data gathering and analysis (see here, here and here).  The most recent addition to what seems to be a growing canon of testing and abolishing cheetah hunting myths was published recently in Biology Letters (abstract only; rest behind a paywall.  But see here for a more extensive summary of the paper).  In this work, the researchers report using temperature sensors to test the hypothesis that cheetahs are unsuccessful in some of their hunts because they overheat.

This seems like such a nice, neat story.  That’s probably one reason why it’s taken so long to actually test it.  The story goes something like:  Cheetahs are the fastest land mammals.  Everyone heats up when they run.  If cheetahs run the fastest, they must heat up the most.  Therefore, heat is the gating factor for Cheetah hunting.  Stories are so appealing!  But that appeal, in satisfying our sense of order, can keep us from looking under the hood and asking questions.

Luckily for us, these researchers did.  Robin Hetem and colleagues found that cheetah temperature did not increase substantially during hunts, whether successful or not.  Oddly, temperature did increase after the hunt was over, and furthermore increased more for the cheetahs that were successful.  The study authors speculate that the reason was heightened awareness to scavengers who might want to steal the cheetah’s prey.

This study highlights the value of remote sensing and our rapidly increasing ability to both monitor and store data continuously, and thereby test our notions of the world.  Data of itself isn’t good or bad, but boy is it useful.

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Cheetahs hunting redux: the next step in measuring baseball defense?

I had another thought about the collars that were used to measure cheetah hunting behaviors.  For a summary that is not behind a paywall, see here.  How long will it be before tools like these are used to measure baseball players, playing defense on the field?  Tools like FIELDf/x quantify the behavior of baseball players from an external viewpoint.  Sportvision’s cameras record elements of the game like positioning, how quickly a defender moves, the kind of jumps he takes when getting to (or missing) the ball, and overall range.  This allows a much clearer view of defender territory, ability to reach difficult balls, and general quality.

Now, what if that were combined with the kinds of tools that were used to measure cheetahs?  As the authors of the article point out, the collars they designed could record “some of the highest measured values for lateral and forward acceleration, deceleration and body-mass-specific power for any terrestrial mammal.”  If it can do that for cheetahs, it can certainly do that for Brendan Ryan and Mike Trout, much less Derek Jeter or Raul Ibanez.  By the way, this would obviously not be implemented as a collar.  You don’t have to drug and tag shortstops.  At least not for these purposes.

Instead, these monitoring devices would be attached to the body, and possibly in multiple places, to capture kinesthetics.  Now, one might say, can’t all this data just be captured by  image capture from the Sportvision feed, and algorithmically extracting things like acceleration, body positioning, etc?  Quite possibly; I don’t know enough about that technology.  But what about actions taken on fields which are not equipped with Sportvision cameras, which is to say, most of them?

That might end up being the sweet spot for implementing this technology, as an adjunct to training, coaching and scouting.  Being able to measure how quickly a high school shortstop actually reacts to the batted ball, based on his lateral acceleration and ability to accelerate/decelerate would provide a more proximal measure of athleticism when making scouting evaluations.  It can also allow quantification of both areas for improvement, as well as a measure of improvement during coaching.  And using these kinds of monitors can also help answer questions on what really is important for defense, based on a comparison of proximal, immediately measured body motions and more distal metrics such as are measured by things like UZR.

Like any of these kinds of quantified self tools, though, it remains to be seen how useful this extra data will be.  However, for the savvy organization at any level, I think these kinds of tools are worth thinking about.

Cheetahs hunting and the quantified self

Who doesn’t love cheetahs?  A young person of my acquaintance went so far as to spend a large portion of her time, at a certain age, cavorting on all fours and yipping and chirping like a cheetah.  And of course we all know that cheetahs are the fastest land animals, and that’s how they catch their prey, by outrunning them.

Only that’s wrong.

Yes cheetahs are wicked fast, reaching about 60 miles per hour, but a recent report in Nature has shown, via novel monitoring techniques, that maneuverability and deceleration skills are the keys to successful hunting.  The researchers designed a new type of monitoring collar that included GPS and accelerometers.  No word on whether the collars also allowed cheetahs to play Words with Friends.

This report highlights the things we can learn as we get better and better at measuring.  Conventional wisdom may remain or be turned on its head, and either outcome is fine.  The key is that we have a better  basis upon which to understand that wisdom, that we don’t take things for granted, that we question our assumptions.

The cheetah collars also point to how we can gather so much more data on individuals, whether furry or bipedal (or both), than we ever could before.  I’ve recently been made aware of the quantified self movement (HT @bkolko), and what they hope to do is in line with what was done with these cheetahs.  Take individual monitoring and data gathering to new heights.  No, it won’t involve tracking collars (unless, you know, that’s your thing).  But it will involve using technology to measure what previously we could only guess at, and enable decision making and research in new and powerful ways.