Federal Computer Week: Can Today's Virtual Soldier Protect Tomorrow's Troops?

Monday, June 4, 2012

By Amber Corrin
Federal Computer Week

The high-tech gear and equipment that will arm the military forces of tomorrow are undergoing rigorous testing today – not on people, but on Santos, a virtual soldier coming to life in a University of Iowa lab.

Iowa City-based Virtual Soldier Research has created the simulated soldier using complicated computer equations. It does also include some help from a few actual humans, such as an ROTC student and potential future soldier, as shown in a Pentagon Channel report posted on the Defense Department’s Armed with Science blog.

Santos serves as a test bed for a range of applications: clothing, protective gear, packs, vehicles and even Harley-Davidson motorcycles, according to the report. Santos allows researchers to test out futuristic military accouterments in a way that its creators believe hasn’t been done before.

“The inclusion of real-world constraints such as gravity, muscle fatigue, muscle strength, clothing restrictions, material properties, and physical restrictions in all of our models allows us to create the most realistic pre-production test environment,” according to the VSR website.

Santos’ creators, who are also developing a female counterpart to be called Sophia, believe the virtual soldier isn’t just a way to test out new equipment; it’s a tool that sets the stage for future development and collaboration, the site notes.

The program is also gearing up for even more expansion: all four military branches are utilizing the virtual soldier technology to test and help design equipment, and the company behind Santos just received an $8.5 million contract with the military to design protective gear, according to the Pentagon Channel.