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Safeguards for soldiers

By Alex Piazza
apiazza@umich.edu

A U.S. Army vehicle with five soldiers aboard maneuvers along a barren stretch in southern Afghanistan.

As the vehicle approaches a small village, a roadside bomb triggers underneath the military vehicle and sends it toppling over, severely injuring its occupants.

The scenario is no anomaly, as U.S. Department of Defense records reveal that roadside bombs wounded more than 8,700 American troops in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2012.

Those figures don’t sit well with Matthew P. Reed, a University of Michigan researcher who has devoted much of his recent efforts to improving safety measures for military personnel.

“Historically, outside of combat, most injuries and fatalities in the Army result from transportation,” said Reed, who heads the U-M Transportation Research Institute’s Biosciences Group. “And in recent combat operations, the No. 1 cause of death and disability is underbody blast caused by improvised explosive devices.”

His latest research focuses on the safety and comfort of seating aboard military vehicles.

Reed and his U-M colleagues collected data from more than 300 soldiers stationed at Army bases in Kentucky, Texas and Washington, measuring dozens of variables as the soldiers sat in vehicle mockups.

A powerful laser scanner used to measure posture captured more than 500,000 data points on soldiers’ bodies within 12 seconds, which provided researchers further insight on the their body dimensions.

“The soldiers who participate in these studies understand very well what we’re trying to achieve,” he said. “They’ve been in these vehicles, worn the body armor and understand how hard it is get in and out. They know that there’s room for improvement in these vehicles.”

That’s why the Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) agreed to fund the research project through the U-M Automotive Research Center.

Reed has conducted similar safety assessments for the automotive industry, but this particular research is unique in that it caters strictly to military personnel. That means taking into account body armor and body borne gear, then determining how those items that weigh upwards of 60 pounds impact soldiers’ safety and comfort levels within a military vehicle.

“This if the first study that I’m aware of with actual data from actual soldiers that details how they sit in vehicles,” he said.

The results of Reed’s research—“The Seated Soldier Study: Posture and Body Shape in Vehicle Seats”—have the potential to transform military vehicles.

“Ultimately, we want to see vehicles designed that provide better accommodation for soldiers, so that they’re safer, less fatigued and can perform better,” he said.

There also is a great deal of interest among industry partners, who hope to utilize this research for commercial purposes, Reed said.

“Our strategy is to engage as many people as we can in hopes of improving the design and assessment of military vehicles as quickly as possible,” he said.

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