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University of Iowa News Release


Feb. 28, 2007

Virtual Soldier Research Program Nets One-Year, $2.3 Million Army Contract

The Virtual Soldier Research (VSR) program, located at the University of Iowa College of Engineering Center for Computer Aided Design (CCAD), has received a $2.3 million contract from the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) of Warren, Mich., to improve human modeling tools used in the design of military ground vehicles.

"This new funding from the U.S. Army TARDEC will enable us to accomplish our vision for creating the most advanced human simulation tools and to capitalize on the highest quality researchers from the medical field at UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine," said Karim Abdel-Malek, CCAD and VSR director and UI professor of biomedical and mechanical engineering.

In particular, the contract calls for the VSR team to further develop their "Predictive Dynamics" tools for use in calculating human motion in a military environment. Invented by VSR researchers, the field of Predictive Dynamics already has made a significant impact on the field of human motion simulation by making it possible -- for the first time ever -- to calculate the walking and running involved in human gait when given such variables as human body size, strength, weight, load-carrying abilities and clothing effects.

This means that Predictive Dynamics likely will improve the already startlingly lifelike computer representations of people called "digital humans." A digital human is a computer character whose anatomy, behavior, motion, and intelligence resemble those of a real person. Digital humans are used to test and evaluate products, equipment, vehicles, and armaments before they are physically made, with the immediate objectives being to reduce time and cost and simulate and identify human safety concerns. VSR's digital human model is called "Santos."

Recently, the VSR team improved the predictability of naturalistic human motions and developed ways to simulate typical soldier tasks. With 109 degrees of freedom, Santos possesses accurate biomechanics, according to Predictive Dynamics. The new contract also calls for the VSR team to partner with Mississippi State University, whose expertise in motion-capture technology and validation will be used to verify that predicted human motions are accurate.

The U.S. Army TARDEC funding will also be used to advance state-of-the-art clothing research to predict how a soldier performs while wearing nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) warfare clothing through the use of modeling and simulation tools to simulate physiological aspects of real soldiers. 

Only three years after it was established, the VSR program has received more than $ 13 million in external funding and has attained national and international recognition, thanks to its ground-breaking research the team of 35 researchers has developed unique technologies for predicting human motion, technologies used to simulate how real people would execute a task as well as to simulate safety considerations in a military environment. In fact, Santos is now able to simulate a task autonomously, thus providing the Army with tools for conducting trade-off analysis and safety evaluations of tasks before fielding real soldiers. Abdel-Malek will serve as project principal investigator, and Dr. Jasbir Arora, Wendell F. Miller Distinguished Professor of Civil, Environmental, and Mechanical Engineering and associate director of the VSR program, will serve as the program's co-principal investigator.

Human modeling and simulation technology is expected to revolutionize the way products are made by reducing the amount of physical prototypes made and providing new tools for simulating safety issues in manufacturing and assembly plants. "The Santos human model is poised to make a significant impact on the fields of manufacturing, ergonomics, safety, rehabilitation, assembly and many more," he said.

UI project co-investigators are: Dr. Tim Marler, VSR senior research scientist; Dr. Laura Frey Law, assistant professor, Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science, UI Lucille A. and Roy J. Carver College of Medicine; and Steve Beck, VSR senior project manager.

The VSR Program was established in 2003 to conduct basic and applied research aimed at creating the most advanced human simulation tools.  While the program was first aimed at the military, it has grown very rapidly over the past three years. The VSR program has active collaborations with the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Command Center, Caterpillar, U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center, Rockwell Collins, Honda and other firms.

Among its many accomplishments, the VSR program has: been featured on the Discovery Channel; exhibited at SIGGRAPH in Los Angeles; exhibited at Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) in San Francisco; hosted the SAE Digital Human Modeling Conference, the most prestigious international conference of its kind; and won best paper awards three times through its researchers.

VSR researchers include faculty, staff, scientists, engineers, clinical researchers, and graduate students from fields including engineering, gaming, psychology, biomechanics, human factors, computers, optimization and industrial design. Additional information can be found at:

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 301, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

RESEARCH CONTACT: Karim Abdel-Malek, director, U.S. Army Virtual Soldier Research Program; director, Center for Computer Aided Design and the National Advanced Driving Simulator; and professor, Departments of Biomedical and Mechanical Engineering, University of Iowa, 319-335-5676,

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