What do marathon running and 3-D virtual-reality technology have in common? Up until now, not much. But Philippe Fuchs, a professor and virtual-reality researcher, is teaming up with Dassault Systèmes to converge the two worlds as he runs from Paris to Beijing as part of a project to create a bio-realistic 3-D model of a human foot.
Fuchs, who kicked off his grueling journey on March 7, plans to run between 60 and 85 km a day, the end game being a 10,000 km (6,000 mile), five-month trek from Paris to Beijing with arrival slated just in time for the Summer 2008 Olympics this August. The 57-year-old Fuchs, a professor at the Ecole des Mine de Paris, is no stranger to such ultra marathons: Among his accomplishments is a Paris-Athens run during the last Summer Olympic Games, which accounted for 1,500 miles in only six weeks.
The Virtual Plus Reality Challenge project took root with both parties wanting to leverage the power of virtual technology to create a scientifically valid 3-D simulation of the human foot, which could be leveraged to improve sports medicine along with prosthetic design and to advance athletic training. While scientists have already modeled the human foot in 3D, the biometric data collected during Fuchs’ Paris-to-Beijing run will be used to verify the virtual foot does indeed behave like a real one in all its complexity. The data collected along the run is fed to the Marseille Motion Science Institute, the third partner in the project, which is working with Dassault to verify the 3-D foot model.
“Today the biggest challenge in biorealistic modeling is the comparison between the real world and the virtual world to ensure the virtual world is acting like the real world,” says Mehdi Tayoubi, director of interactive media for Dassault. “We know how to do it with objects like planes and to do crash tests with products like SIMULIA, but for the human body, it’s more difficult.”
So difficult, Tayoubi expects the virtual model to take close to three years to complete and verify. Today, he says, scientists could easily leverage simulation tools like Dassault’s SIMULIA to evaluate how a running shoe performs in terms of strength and durability. However, simulating how the shoe impacts the human body while running has been much more elusive.
“We’re doing the challenge only on the human foot because it has more than one third of the bones in all of the body, along with muscles and ligaments — all of the things that make it difficult to simulate, unlike a simple object,” he says.
To collect the data required for the simulation process, Fuchs puts on sensors, running sole inserts and other equipment once a week to collect such data points as speed, placement, cadence, length of stride and pressure. In addition, he wears a GPS-enabled watch, which is wirelessly connected to the sensors to record and display that information along with typical running data like his heart frequency and speed. All of this data is regularly uploaded to a PC and then transmitted to the Marseille Motion Science Institute in France via FTP using a satellite connection.
To generate some buzz for the project and support for Fuchs’ run, Dassault has created a mini-website that allows the public to watch Fuchs’ progress, including getting his real-time position via a geolocation interface. Dassault is also sponsoring a virtual charity race with Sports Without Borders via a Facebook application, which allows virtual runners to create 3-D avatars and join the marathon.