• May 22, 2010
Santos, Ford's manufacturing avatar – Click above for high-res image gallery

Technology is your friend, but no one said it's always going to be not creepy nice to look at. The fellow there next to the Ford Fiesta is named "Santos." He's a U.S. Department of Defense creation working part-time at Ford as a "computerized avatar." His job? To perform "actions in the virtual world that can allow Ford to improve quality, safety and ergonomics in factories before an assembly line is built."

Translation: Santos and his virtual musculoskeletal structure can test assembly line procedures at The Blue Oval, helping production-line engineers organize stations in a manner that maximizes efficiency and worker comfort. We're just waiting for the day when Santos says, "The most efficient way to do this is... to eliminate the humans." Enjoy the gallery of high-res photos below and the video after the jump - while you still can.

[Source: Ford]

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  • Santos was created for the U.S. Department of Defense as part of the Virtual Soldier Research program at the University of Iowa; the military employs Santos to find ways to ease the physical strain on soldiers
  • Santos, now in the testing phase at Ford, is a computerized avatar that performs actions in the virtual world that can allow Ford to improve quality, safety and ergonomics in factories before an assembly line is built
  • Santos is designed with a complete biomechanical muscular system to provide feedback on fatigue, speed, strength and torque

DEARBORN, Mich., May 18, 2010 – The new guy on the Ford Motor Company assembly line is an inexhaustible tough guy with impeccable military and academic credentials.

His name is Santos, a highly realistic virtual worker who doesn't just simulate motion; he records the actual physical strains of reaching, lifting and stretching. He can execute tasks autonomously. He can walk, talk and answer questions.

Originally created for the U.S. Department of Defense at the University of Iowa as part of the Virtual Soldier Research (VSR) program to help reduce physical strain on soldiers, Santos has been heralded by ergonomists as a breakthrough in digital modeling.

Santos' move from the virtual battlefield to the virtual assembly line is the latest step in Ford's efforts to improve ergonomics at its manufacturing plants.

"Creating the safest and most ergonomic way to build a vehicle is a trial-and-error process – in recent years technology has allowed this process to happen in the virtual world," said Allison Stephens, ergonomics technical specialist with Vehicle Operations Manufacturing Engineering. "Santos takes this to a new level. He can perform a task and tell us whether over months and years it will cause back strain, for example, and we can make adjustments until we find the optimal way to get the job done."

Santos builds on the company's use of digital avatars – dubbed Jack and Jill – that help Ford test ergonomics and safety on the assembly line in the virtual world. Santos goes further by allowing Ford to understand the true strain on the body when performing actions on the job.

"It's very cool in the ergo world that we can evaluate these types of movements, these lifts where you're using acceleration, or momentum – what we call the dynamics of a lift," Stephens said.

Santos provides feedback and realistic insight
When Stephens heard about the research being done with Santos in VSR program, she was immediately intrigued. "The same issue is at work at Ford as in the military – how to analyze human limits with dynamic motion. Santos, with his capability in predictive dynamics, will aid in increasing efficiency as well as safety and quality."

Santos is the culmination of years of study in modeling, multi-body dynamics and robotics, said Jay Johnson, CEO of SantosHuman Inc., which works in conjunction with the University of Iowa.

"Our software uses a physics platform," Johnson said. "We can change things and see the effect; that's what predictive dynamics brings to the table."

Predictive dynamics uses general rules of human body movement combined with complex mathematical models and robotics to enable Santos to provide feedback on fatigue, speed, strength and torque, even as the parameters of the virtual environment change, said Tim Marler, a VSR senior research scientist.

The laws of physics apply
Because Santos has been equipped with a complete biomechanical muscular system, he is subject to all the laws of physics, Marler said. "This software is a new experience – you can get feedback. You can see body strength in real time. You can see fatigue. When you have that ability to see motion, to predict motion, you can work that into your designs and programs."

The Department of Defense has been working with the University of Iowa since 2004; Ford began working with the university three years ago. Stephens formed a collaboration with GM and Chrysler to share funding, with each automotive group paying $500,000 over the past three years. The federal government has put in approximately $10 million toward development.

Santos is still in the testing phase, Stephens said, but when he comes on board, he will help Ford continue to move forward in the field of ergonomics.

"The human body is amazing, and we're always learning something new," Stephens said. "The better we understand the human body, the better we can create a safer, ergonomically correct workplace."

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      Nice abs buddy! too bad the military didn't design some junk for you to pass those on.

      Will all Fiesta drivers be so emasculated??
      • 4 Years Ago
      I just knew gameboy would amount to something someday.
      • 4 Years Ago
      What Fiesta is that?? ST with EcoBoost please!
        • 4 Years Ago
        I want one of those FIestas! That front facia is a lot better looking than the neutered one for the USA.
        • 4 Years Ago
        That is the EURO fiesta. Once again, Ford shows us the better looking one in it's ads/promo material and sells us the ugly one in it's dealerships...
        • 4 Years Ago
        If the US model looked like that, I'd have already ordered one.
        • 4 Years Ago
        It's one with wheels that are no longer available here, as they'd been advertising for months. I just spec'd one and Ford has deleted the option to kit it with larger, 18" wheels and decent rubber.

        So, I guess we'll see a lot of these with dinky econo rims after all.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I'd hit it.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Looks like brown is the new black...

      At least as far as "expected facades of diversity" goes.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Yeah, he does not look like the average line worker.
      • 4 Years Ago
      They should have named him "HAL".
      • 4 Years Ago
      Old news, Welcome to the 21st century Ford, Toyota has had a similar system for 10 years. The last 3 models of the Camry have been designed with it.
      • 4 Years Ago
      is he unionized?
      • 4 Years Ago
      That's the Asia/Pacific model. Has a slightly different front end but it is still more closely related to the Euro model than ours. They didn't have to add anything to the bumper offsets or the interior.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I don't know...he's kinda cute, aside from having no junk and a lazy eye...it's a refreshing break from the beaver parade we're usually subjected to...if it looked like Laura Croft, you guys wouldn't be complaining
      • 4 Years Ago
      That's so chauvinistic. Release the Summer Glau version!
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