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The human factor

The human factor

For a growing number of organizations, human modeling and simulation software has become an important tool for designing products, processes, and workplaces that are more attuned to the needs of people. The U.S Army, however, is out on point in this area, largely because its people may have the most hazardous workplaces conceivable.

"We've been exploring ways to factor the needs of people into our design process for more than 15 years," says John Lockett, director of the Human Engineering Analysis Tools (HEAT) project at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory's Human Research and Engineering Directorate, Aberdeen, MD. "We used to use 3-D acetate templates of human figures in various poses. The best we could do was to produce a paper blueprint to the same scale as the template poses."

Not necessarily the best way to determine if a crewperson can reach a tank control panel--or bail out through an escape hatch. In response, the lab acquired a human-factors modeling package developed at the University of Pennsylvania and marketed by Transom Technologies Inc. The software, Transom Jack, accurately depicts the dimensions and range of motions of human beings of all shapes and sizes. Like a virtual G.I. Joe, Transom Jack can be placed in all manner of poses and situations. HEAT places Jack representations of soldiers into solid CAD models of armored fighting vehicles.

The lab currently has five seats of Jack running on various SGI workstations. Lockett's team works with several contractors, including General Dynamics and FMC, trying to insert human factors concerns into the development of army equipment and vehicles. "It's absolutely critical that we're working with models that reflect the physical characteristics of our soldiers," Lockett explains. "Jack allows us to define figures with detailed anthropotetric data."

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