Daily Iowan: Regents Meet Santos, The Virtual Human

Friday, September 19, 2008

By Amanda McClure - The Daily Iowan

UI engineers on Thursday introduced a virtual human that can react to and simulate real-life actions to the state Board of Regents.

The virtual man, Santos, is a simulator designed to help researchers understand how the human body responds to various situations.

In a room in the UI Center for Computer Aided Design is the program's technology, including a life-sized Santos hologram that can predict behavior and report actions' effects of on the human body.

"Santos allows us to determine impacts and effects of real-life situations," said Karim Abdel-Malek, a UI biomedical engineering professor who started work on the project eight years ago.

During Thursday's presentation, one video showed Santos on a roller coaster, bobbing and shaking in response the ride's twists and drops.

"He has all of the capabilities of a regular human, except for brain activity," Abdel-Malek said.

Santos is now used for U.S. Army projects and to assist various manufacturing companies assess their products using computer technology. In the virtual world, organizations are able to save time and money while testing their products with Santos.

The Army can test the exact weight and material that will be effective on the battlefield without putting human soldiers at risk.

The UI recently renewed its contract with the Army for an additional three years to develop appropriate combat armor. Abdel-Malek said soldiers who wear protective armor over still suffer an extremely high number of injured extremities.

Harley-Davidson recently signed a $1 million contract to use Santos to create proper ergonomics for its motorcycles. The virtual human allows the company to test such items as bike-seat designs, structures, length of rides, and how lengths affect different body types.

The project has generated upwards of $16.2 million, and it recently netted additional approximately $1 million contracts with several large manufacturing corporations.

Though the virtual human has been a success in its eight-year existence, Malek and his team of 40 engineers continue to research ways to improve the technology.

"We're working on creating brain activity, but it's a very difficult process," Malek said. "The most positive thing about having this technology in Iowa is the number of talented people that we already have here."

E-mail DI reporter Amanda McClure at:

amanda-mcclure@uiowa.edu