If you were designing a new back brace, trying it out on people could be kind of risky – what if it was flawed, and ended up hurting the test subjects? It was with this in mind that scientists at Britain's University of Lancaster have created what is reportedly the world's first human torso simulator.
The researchers started with CT scans of actual human torsos, which were used to create three-dimensional computer models. Those models were in turn utilized by a 3D printer, which produced a life-size spine and ribcage, along with other components of the simulator.
The resulting flexible testing rig is said to closely mimic the geometry, tissue qualities and mechanical behaviour of a real human torso. When fitted with a back brace, it's able to measure how much that device reduces flexion, extension, lateral bending and torsion of the back. It does so in a standardized fashion, whereas results obtained from human test subjects would vary from person to person.
Additionally, the simulator's spine can be altered to replicate the effects of conditions such as scoliosis, for the testing of medical braces. In all cases, the brace would still eventually have to be tested on humans – this would take place much further into its development than is currently the case, however, minimizing discomfort and potentially even injuries to test subjects.
"Back braces have been used as both medical and retail products for decades, however existing designs can often be found to be heavy, overly rigid, indiscrete and uncomfortable," says team member Dr. David Cheneler. "Our simulator enables new back braces to be developed that are optimized to constrain particular motions but allowing for other movements. It could also help with the design of braces and supports with targeted restriction of movement, which would be beneficial to some conditions and helping to reduce the risk of muscle-loss."
Source: University of Lancaster
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