Lightening their load
Virtual Soldier Research helping Navy, Marines with combat effectiveness
A team of University of Iowa researchers received a five-year contract worth up to $8.6 million from the U.S. Navy for a project that could ultimately save lives and increase combat effectiveness by having military personnel carry lighter loads into combat.
The renowned Virtual Soldier Research (VSR) program at the UI College of Engineering's Center for Computer-Aided Design won the contract for the project formally known as "Enhanced Technologies for Optimization of Warfighter Load" (ETOWL).
Karim Abdel-Malek, project principal investigator, VSR director, and UI professor of biomedical engineering, says the project will support the Office of Naval Research's "Lighten-the-Load" program for the Navy and the Marines.
He noted that military personnel carry substantial loads—even for routine engagements and missions—due to uncertainties involved in mission planning.
Using VSR's computerized version of a human being, engineers will be able to evaluate the effect of equipment loads on such variables as human mobility and physical stress, without having to place a real warfighter in the field.
"To accomplish this goal, the ETOWL program will focus on technology development in two areas," says Abdel-Malek. "The first is the development of computational modeling tools. The second is the development of an easy-to-use planning tool that leverages these models and enables small-unit leaders to evaluate likely performance trade-offs of different equipment profiles across a squad."
The foundation of VSR's ETOWL effort is the SANTOS digital human modeling and simulation environment. Under development at VSR since 2003, and leveraging more that $23 million in research funding by the U.S. Department of Defense and industrial partners and collaborators (including Caterpillar Inc., Ford Motor Company, Chrysler, General Motors, and others), SANTOS represents the state-of-the-art in technology application of physics-based and physiological response-based human modeling and simulation, with respect to task-based human performance assessment.The VSR team is composed of more than 40 faculty and professional staff researchers from colleges, departments, and programs across the University of Iowa. Research areas include musculoskeletal modeling, whole-body vibration, motion-capture and validation, dynamic strength and fatigue, human performance, and armor and soldier performance.