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April 06, 2009— Ottawa, Ontario

A grey, three dimensional "virtual face" stares blankly out of a laptop screen. Sliding a series of software controls from side to side, Dr. Chang Shu makes the face morph into hundreds of different shapes, each one showing variations in key facial dimensions.

Welcome to the digital human modelling project, an NRC-led initiative that addresses the growing need for 3D information on the human body. The project partners the NRC Institute for Information Technology (NRC-IIT) in Ottawa with other government, university and industry organizations, including among others Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC).

Under the digital human modelling project, NRC is developing new software tools to rapidly image and model human body shapes.

Under the digital human modelling project, NRC is developing new software tools to rapidly image and model human body shapes.

"Our aim is to develop new tools for rapidly imaging and modelling human body shapes and then apply the tools toward a wide range of applications," says Dr. Shu of NRC-IIT. For example, he and his colleagues have developed digital modelling software to help DRDC design new helmets for Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

"DRDC wants to develop helmets that protect both the head and neck, which is vulnerable to shrapnel from an improvised explosive device on the ground," he explains. "Until now, helmet designs were based on anthropometric measurements, which involve the use of simple tools such as calipers and tape measures to measure linear distances. But if you want to design the best helmet possible, you need 3D shape information."

To collect this data, DRDC scanned the heads of some 400 Canadian soldiers. "Our software then analyzed the 3D-scan data and characterized the soldiers' head shapes," says Dr. Shu. "By doing so, we computed an optimal set of shapes, which are being used to design specific helmet sizes that best fit the soldier population."

"This is a new way of using surface 3D anthropometry data for industrial product design," he adds. Besides helmets, digital human modelling could facilitate clothing manufacturing, transportation, aerospace and furniture design. The technology could also be used for medical, security, forensic and entertainment applications.

In the medical field, for example, advance visualization tools are now being applied to the human brain, as part of an NRC project to create virtual surgery techniques to plan surgery and train medical students, says François Blais, leader of NRC-IIT's visual information technology group.

The roots of the human digital modelling project date back to 2000 with the launch of the Civilian American and European Surface Anthropometry Resource (CAESAR) project — an international consortium, involving public and private sector organizations, that acquired 5,000 different human body scans from North America and Europe. "This was the world's first large 3D anthropometric survey," says Dr. Shu, "and NRC was the first organization to publish results of statistical shape analysis on CAESAR data." 

Unique in the world, the NRC-IIT team boasts expertise in everything from 3D data acquisitions to image processing and visualization. "Many groups can do 3D scans, but to make full use of 3D data you need advanced statistical shape analysis," says Dr. Shu. "Our technology is available now so a lot of people want to collaborate with us."

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada

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