Jack of All Trades

If you don’t know jack about hybrid inertial-acoustic tracking technology, then you probably have not been introduced to Tecnomatix Jack, a human modeling and simulation tool from Siemens PLM Software. Designed to improve the ergonomics of product designs and workplace tasks in virtually any environment, the software features the titular humanoid Jack and his digital cohort, Jill. Both are biomechanically accurate avatars that can be scaled by stature and weight and placed in simulated work settings for quantitative feedback on injury risk, strength capability, posture analysis, fatigue, and task timing.

Jack and Jill provide this ergonomic feedback—telling engineers, for example, what they can see and reach, how comfortable they are, when and why they are getting hurt, when they are getting tired, and so on—through the software’s incorporation of advanced empirical models, inverse kinematics, and body dimension measurements taken from several anthropometric databases. These parameters can be further enhanced by a Jack add-on Task Analysis Toolkit loaded with more predictive tools for analyzing such human factors issues as low-back spinal force, lifting, and metabolic energy expenditure, among others.

What this all means in layman’s terms, according to Dean Wormell, director of visualization and simulation applications marketing for InterSense Inc., the Bedford, Mass.-based company that provides the motion-tracking system for the latest version of the software, is that digital humans can go (or be placed) in an exact replica of a workplace, perform assigned tasks, and find any problem early in the design stage, before hazards become difficult and costly to correct.

Jack the Gripper
“It’s a program that allows you to measure and monitor human performance,” Wormell says. “Say someone does a repetitive motion 100 times on a joint. The model might say, for example, that if they move their arm 300 times that way they would be maybe only 50 or 60 percent as efficient as when they started. Those types of parameters are built in, and you can make measurements on them,” using the calculations to refine tasks, correct design flaws, and build more ergonomically sound products in safer, more productive environments.

Rendering a person’s real-world movements accurately in the virtual world is a crucial part of using digital humans to make such measurements. To be useful— and not give the user motion sickness—the orientation has to be precise as the realtime movements are translated into data, which the predictive software then uses for calculating such factors as grip force, torque, and general performance in the space of the virtual environment. This is where the hybrid inertial-acoustic tracking technology comes in.

Developed by InterSense as a plug-in for the Jack program, the hybrid technology is a fusion of various motiontracking systems designed to overcome the limitations inherent to any one tracking device when used alone. Wormell describes InterSense’s multi-sensing technology as a microelectromechanical system that integrates gyroscopes, accelerometers, and magnetometers into sensors on an acoustic grid that functions “like a little local GPS system, with the acoustic emitters being satellites, essentially.”

Jack Formation
From its earliest days, the Jack software has always used some type of motion-tracking system. First licensed and released in 1997 as “Transom Jack” and later called “Visualization Jack,” the software became part of the UGS Tecnomatix family in April 2005. When the automation giant Siemens acquired UGS in early 2007 for $3.5 billion, Jack and Jill became part of the company’s PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) Software division. The first Jack release to include an InterSense interface, one of several motion-tracking systems available to Jack users, was version 5.1 of the software, released in July 2006. Each Jack generation has become more realistic, precise, and analytically useful, even as the technology behind it has improved.

“Now that we have the ability to visualize and virtualize the working environment, we can use tools like Jack more productively without having to worry about keeping a network or supercomputer running in the back room,” Wormell says. “As computer power and graphic horsepower has increased over the past several years, it’s gotten to the point where a lot of these tools can be run on more standard platforms, making them more accessible to more people.”

The recommended hardware platforms for Jack include Windows 2000/XP, Hewlett-Packard HPUX v.11, and Silicon Graphics IRIX 6.5x.

This article originally appeared in the December 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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