KGAN-TV: Virtual Soldier Winning the War in Iowa City

May 17, 2012

By Jack Miller

The latest military innovations aren't happening on the battlefield anymore.  They're happening inside computers.  And some of those computers are located in Iowa City.  It's shaping what America's military will look like tomorrow.

Deep inside a research lab at the University of Iowa, we're shown a place where real people have created a virtual man.  He's a soldier names Santos.  He's built off the information of real people.  The moves, the effort and the fatigue.  The man Santos owes his existence to is Dr. Karim Abdel-Malek.  He's the director of the Virtual Soldier Research program.  In one small room, Santos was born and continues to be perfected.  "We model them inside the compuer.  We model the bio-mechanics, the muscles, the physical build, how strong they are.  All of this, using equations," says Malek. 

But first you need real people like Robert Hofer and ROTC undergrad at U-I.  His flesh and bone builds the virtual Santos.  "First without the suit to see how you do with no limitations and then with the armor on you to see how you do the test differently," he says.

"Is he real or not?  The military wants 80 to 90 percent accuracy," said Malek.  "So they can say Santos answered this with as much correctness as a solider has done." 

Santos is very accurate, and so Virtual Soldier Research has contracts with all four branches of the U.S. military to test and help design equipment.  The automotive industry uses Santos to predict assembly line injuries.  He even rides choppers for Harley Davidson to make sure the ergonomics are right.  For the military, he could save big money designing tanks by eliminating the need for prototypes.  "So we want a human model to go inside the tank, in the computer, while it's virtual, while it's being designed and test things for us and let us know," said Malek.

And Santos recently picked up a friend.  Her name is Sophia.  Virtual Soldier Research is now building a complimentary female virtual soldier based on testing from female Marines.

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