Thursday, July 5, 2007

Do Virtual Humans Dream of Digital Sheep?

The creation of a virtual human may save corporations big money and help the military save lives.

Virtual Soldier Research at the University of Iowa has used algorithms combined with motion-capture data to create Santos, a digital human being. Programmed with extensive modeling data, the result of research on the human body, Santos can be programmed to do anything a flesh-based human would do. As he moves in response to commands, he sends back information on his comfort level and joint angles. Caterpillar has hired Santos to help them make sure heavy equipment is ergonomic and easy to service. "They have an interest in serviceability and mental ability," said Karim Abdel-Malek, professor of biomedical engineering and director of the Virtual Soldier Research program. "We can ask Santos to change an oil filter on a dump truck or some similar task. As he goes about doing the job, we can query any part of his body functions, such as heart rate, temperature, muscle load and others."The US Army has also turned to digital human technology. Santos can model body armor and other protective gear and advise if they are too restrictive. The Army can place Santos in combat situation to determine how appropriate the gear is and whether to move forward with product development.

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