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University of Iowa News Release

Feb. 10, 2006

UI Virtual Soldier Program Receives $1.6 Million To Help Design New Armor

The body armor worn by future U.S. soldiers likely will have a University of Iowa connection, thanks to a $1.6 million, three-year contract the army has signed with the UI's Virtual Soldier Research (VSR) Program.

Located within the College of Engineering's Center for Computer-Aided Design (CCAD), the two-and-a-half-year-old VSR program has won a total of $9.8 million in funding to use computer-generated humans for projects ranging from clothing design to vehicle design and analysis.

Dr. Karim Abdel-Malek, professor of biomedical engineering and CCAD and VSR director, says that the body armor project is partly inspired by the experience of soldiers currently fighting in Iraq. The U.S. military has sensed the need for designing and implementing a more sophisticated armor system for the individual soldier, he says.

"Today, soldiers must choose either torso armor, which is typically composed of plates used as insertions in a vest, or rigid pre-designed armor vests," he says. "However, both types of armor are insufficient for complete soldier protection. What is needed is armor that provides full protection without inhibiting agility and flexibility. While there is no shortage of new concepts for armor, it is difficult to imagine how the test designs might be evaluated, short of having soldiers serve as test subjects in the field, which is clearly an unacceptable process."

That is where the University of Iowa VSR program comes in.

The U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center (Natick), located in Natick, Mass., set out to find the best human simulation system that can be used to test the armor options in the digital world, says Abdel-Malek. They selected VSR from among the many respondents to a national search. Natick and VSR will use virtual soldiers of varying size, weight and strength to test armor and determine which configuration is most effective in providing protection while allowing for maximum agility and flexibility.

To conduct the tests, the University of Iowa VSR program will rely on its virtual soldier model, called Santos™. The main goal for VSR is to develop a complete biomechanically accurate human model capable of testing various armor configurations while performing different tasks typically assigned to a soldier.  Abdel-Malek says that substantial research in human modeling and simulation will be needed as part of a concerted effort by engineers, medical doctors, physiologists, computer graphics professionals and experts in many other disciplines. While the research challenges over the next three years will be substantial, the possibilities for using this technology to help soldiers are endless. Dr. Tim Marler, senior research scientist at VSR, says the research that will be conducted for Natick, especially with regard to approximate muscle models and whole-body dynamic motion prediction, promises to have a substantial impact, not only for Natick but also for a wide variety of industries and applications.

In addition to Abdel-Malek, research project leaders include: Tim Marler, VSR senior research scientist and adjunct assistant professor; Laura Frey Law, assistant professor of physical therapy and rehabilitation science in the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine; Colby Swan, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering; Jasbir Arora, professor of civil and environmental engineering and VSR associate director; and Steve Beck, VSR senior projects manager. The VSR team consists of 35 researchers from various colleges on the University of Iowa campus.

(Note to editors: The VSR team has attained national and international recognition for developing the most advanced digital human system. Recently the Discovery Channel broadcast a segment offering a description of the virtual soldier model called Santos. The segment can be viewed by visiting the VSR Web site:

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gary Galluzzo, 319-384-0009,