2020 Iowa Virtual Human Summit

2020 Summit Focus: Using Digital Twins in Modeling & Simulation to Improve Female Body Armor


Ladder Climb
A soldier and the virtual human Sophia climbing ladders

University of Iowa Technology Institute is hosting a summit examining current and future states of virtual human representation in modeling and simulation. The focus is on female-specific performance and the promise a "digital twin" replica offers to optimize the design of new equipment. Leading experts in modeling and simulation will lead presentations about technical gaps, challenges, and priorities, as well as plans to fill gaps, in developing female personal protective equipment (PPE) for the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, law enforcement, first responders, industry, and others. The summit offers an opportunity to connect stakeholders with the resources, expertise, and tools to meet the challenges from academia, industry, and government to take part in this important conversation. 

Key Details

What: 2020 Iowa Virtual Human Summit: Using Digital Twins in Modeling & Simulation to Improve Female Body Armor

Who: University of Iowa Technology Institute and Sen. Joni Ernst

When: Wednesday, August 12, 2020, 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. ET (7:30 to 12:00 p.m. CT)

Where: Virtual

Why: Too often the one-size-fits-all approach to PPE and body armor fails to provide adequate protection or comfort for females in the line of duty. Legislation proposed last year in Congress calls attention to the need to close this gap. Organizations such as Iowa Technology Institute have mature modeling and simulation tools that can be leveraged to improve the design and fit of PPE and body armor for females.


  • Identify and evaluate existing capabilities and opportunities for female PPE 

  • Identify specific challenges and priorities related to R&D, training, operations, acquisition, and test & evaluation

  • Discuss use of modeling and simulation (M&S) tools to address challenges; highlight M&S applications in human behavior representation (realism), performance (survivability, lethality, and injury), training, and test & evaluation

  • Discuss need for improved definitions, standards, and measurements related to female PPE 

  • University of Iowa facilitate DOD-wide conversations to enhance human behavior M&S 

Why Now? 

Joni Ernst
Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst

A bi-partisan coalition, including Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, has brought attention to the need for body armor and other PPE that is adequate, properly fitted, and readily available for female soldiers. Over 210,000 women serve on active duty in the military services (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force), and another 5,955 serve in the Active Coast Guard, according to a Service Women's Action Network 2019 report. Many military women are forced to wear equipment and clothing that don't fit because they were designed for men. 

Sen. Ernst, who will keynote the Summit, is chair of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities. She identified proper-fitting body armor for female soldiers at the top of her list of priorities for Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. 

The previously introduced Female Body Armor Modernization Act of 2019 had gained bi-partisan support and legislation tracker, GovTrack, had identified it as a "potential candidate for passage, although it’s also possible it could be incorporated into the larger annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). It’s also possible the military could incorporate some of these reforms of their own accord."

Why Iowa?

America's heartland has been at the forefront of keeping soldiers safe for decades. ITI is based at the University of Iowa as a unit of the College of Engineering. Over its nearly 40-year history, ITI—formerly Center for Computer-Aided Design—has established itself as a leader in the field of modeling and simulation powered by some of the world's top experts.

Sophia climbs a ladder while encumbered with PPE

ITI is home to Santos, a virtual human physics-based simulator introduced in 2003, and female counterpart Sophia. The duo offer "digital twins," or a virtual replica of individuals for training, acquisition, and injury prevention purposes. Santos and Sophia have proven valuable over numerous tests of new equipment and processes for the Department of Defense, industry, and other agencies, to make them safer, more efficient, and more productive. Virtual modeling and simulation provide a cost-effective method for testing before development begins. ITI is the only vendor that is creating digital twins of female soldiers. 

A Closer Look at Santos

Learn about Santos

Santos is a visually realistic, biomechanically accurate high-fidelity digital human model - male or female - that allows the testing of human capabilities in imported CAD environments of objects, vehicles, and scenes. The model can interact with the environment and contains a large set of analysis tools for ergonomics and human factors as well as exploring countless trade-off scenarios. 

The unique advantage of being a physics-based modeling and simulation platform is that it allows for cause and effect. Asking Santos to carry a specific load over an extended time, for example, will lead to fatigue calculations, energy expenditures, and an estimate of hydration levels. Adding more gear and equipment will render a restricted mobility, while adding advanced PPE armor will increase survivability.

Santos shows how a piece of body armor protects against a bullet and the damage inflicted without body armor

Developed in 2003 by the Virtual Soldier Research Program (VSR), a research center at Iowa Technology Institute, Santos stands apart from other human models because of its suite of interconnected, real-time, validated, physics-based, predictive capabilities, as well as the foundation it provides for the most comprehensive multi-scale digital human. The use of these novel optimization-based modeling and simulation techniques allows our digital humans to predict how and why humans perform.