See the digital soldiers who 'crash test' army vehicles

Tanks and armoured vehicles have more than fender benders to contend with. In the video above, learn about the lab trying to make military vehicles safer – using virtual passengers.

You might think that a military vehicle – a tank or a Humvee – would give the occupants the highest chance of surviving an accident. It is not always the case.

Very little is known about how soldiers are injured when their vehicles crash or are damaged by explosions. The environment they have to work in is very different to the upholstered interior of a family car.

In the video above, BBC Future visited a new project at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor which is aiming to change that. The Seated Soldier Study is a crash test programme with a difference. It aims to measure and model what happens to people weighed down with body armour, gear, and weapons when their vehicle gets into trouble.

More than 8,000 3D scans of personnel have been pooled together, showing researchers just how different the risks and dangers are in a military vehicle. And foremost among those is the injuries that happen when a vehicle hits a mine or is damaged by a roadside bomb.

 The number one risk in combat in recent years has been underbody blast - Matthew Reed, researcher

“Soldiers see a very different safety environment,” says Matthew Reed, of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (Umtri). “The number one risk in combat in recent years has been underbody blast. So a major focus of this effort is to understand how soldiers sit in their seat when they’re in vehicles, so we can understand how to protect them in those underbody blast events.”

The thousands of scans the team took included test subjects dressed in little more than their underwear right up to the kind of kit that soldiers would be dressed in when going into battle – including their rifle.

To do that a full body scan is carried out by a full-sized laser scanner. The process is painless, and the near instant results are impressive: a body captured with all its contours and textures.

The team’s findings might not just be of interest to the military. There are other roles – such as law enforcement – where occupants often take to the wheel with extra equipment such as body armour so the findings could apply to the civilian world too.

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