A University of Iowa researcher has designed a program to predict the role posture may play in reducing head and neck injuries. The work could help vehicle designers create a robot that is actually a computerized model of a long-distance truck driver or other heavy equipment operator.

The computer program allows engineers to accurately predict the role posture plays in transferring the stress of vehicle motion to bone and muscle in the head and neck.

According to researcher Salam Rahmatalla, “Studies have shown that awkward head-neck postures inside whole-body vibration environments can increase discomfort and the risk of injury. The goal of this project is to introduce a computerized human model that can be used to predict human motion in response to whole-body vibration when the human takes different head-neck postures.”

He notes that the predicted motion data of his current model can be used to drive more sophisticated computer human models — with muscles and internal tissues — that can predict muscle forces and internal strain and stress between tissues and vertebrae. Significantly, the computer program may reduce the need for actual human subjects to drive test vehicles.

“The automotive industry, and manufacturers of heavy machinery including construction, agriculture, mining, and military vehicles can benefit from the application of this model to the design of their equipment,” Rahmatalla says. “Also, human factors researchers and ergonomists can use this model to investigate the effect of head-neck posture on human response, performance, human machine interaction, and injury risk in whole-body vibration.”

Rahmatalla conducted the study by having 11 male participants sit in a vehicle simulator where they were subjected to white-noise random vibration, and the acceleration data of the head and neck for each was recorded. The recorded motion data was used to calibrate the computer human model.