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University of Iowa News Release

April 18, 2005

UI, Caterpillar Sign $1.75 Million Virtual Soldier Partnership

The University of Iowa College of Engineering's Virtual Soldier Research (VSR) program has entered into a $1.75 million, five-year partnership with Caterpillar Inc. of Peoria, Ill. to create new technologies in human modeling and simulation that will improve its realistic, computerized human model called "Santos."

Located within the college's Center for Computer-Aided Design (CCAD), the VSR program and Santos are designed to save time and money by reducing the need to build physical prototypes in the testing and evaluation of products, equipment, vehicles and armaments prior to manufacture. Anatomically accurate and possessing the ability to make decisions and ask questions, Santos is already an intelligent system. However, Karim Abdel-Malek, professor of biomedical engineering, CCAD director of project development and VSR director, says that the new partnership will enable UI staff, students and faculty to work with Caterpillar engineers to create new Santos capabilities.

CCAD Director V.C. Patel says that Caterpillar, the world's leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, has chosen to partner with the University of Iowa VSR program because of the unique technology being developed under the auspices of the U.S. Army.

"Santos can model clothing, muscles and human performance measures such as energy and fatigue, it can predict natural motions in an autonomous manner because Santos has a 'brain,'" Abdel-Malek says. "The VSR team has also recently partnered with the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Department of Neurology to add emotion-based decision making to Santos's behavior capabilities. Santos currently is capable of answering questions such as: 'What is your fatigue level?' and 'Can you operate this machine?' Having Caterpillar on board brings a wealth of value-added experience, a pool of users and a strategic partner who can help us push the envelope. We look forward to this long-term partnership."

He adds that technological advances resulting from the partnership may include advanced methods for studying vehicle, cockpit and building egress/ingress issues and an advanced hand model to study the grasping of objects and the manipulation of products, as well as gripping forces and product safety. The technology is also expected to enable improvements to Caterpillar's product development process and facilitate further enhancements in the design of the machine to human interface for Caterpillar products.

Barely two years old, VSR has received a total of $3.7 million from the U.S. Army to use state-of-the-art gaming and entertainment animation techniques to simulate real soldiers. The VSR team is not only nationally renowned, but it is also the largest multidisciplinary group of its kind in the nation conducting research on human modeling and simulation with some 36 researchers from diverse backgrounds. The multidisciplinary team has international experts in biomechanics, optimization, dynamics, haptics, psychology, neurology and engineering and includes professional staff, faculty, graduate and undergraduate students.

Abdel-Malek says that while the VSR program has focused on serving the military's needs, it will increasingly begin to benefit the commercial sector by designing safer, more ergonomic products.

VSR will host the 2005 SAE Digital Human Modeling Conference, the most prestigious international conference of its kind, June 14-16 in Iowa City. VSR recently shared the main booth with the U.S. Army in the SAE World Congress and Exhibition April 11-14 in Detroit. Last year, VSR exhibited in Los Angeles at the SIGGRAPH 2004 computer graphics conference, and VSR research received the Outstanding Paper Award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) at the International Mechanical Engineering Congress (IMECE) in Anaheim, Calif. Additional information on VSR can be found at http://www.digital-humans.org/.

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, gary-galluzzo@uiowa.edu